Is encouraging someone to commit suicide “protected speech?”
That is what William Melchert-Dinkel is claiming in Minnesota. Dinkel was convicted of encouraging Mark Drybrough (age 32) and Nadia Kajouji (age 18) to kill themselves. Both ended their lives in 2005 and 2008, respectively.
Dinkel, a 48-year-old nurse, trolled online suicide chat rooms. He posed as a female nurse, expressed compassion to his listeners and provided instructions on how they could end their lives. He admitted participating in conversations with up to twenty people and entering into fake suicide pacts with ten of them.
In May, 2011, Dinkel was sentenced to one year in jail and fifteen years of probation. Under Minnesota law, he could have received a maximum of 15 years on each count. The judge also ordered him to spend two days in jail on the anniversaries of Mark and Nadia’s deaths. He is to complete 160 hours of community service speaking to the public about the dangers of the Internet. He is prohibited from working in the health-care profession and is restricted from using the Internet except for work purposes and with the approval of his probation officer. A fine and restitution to Nadia’s family was ordered as well. Mark’s family did not seek restitution.
Dinkel plans to appeal the court’s decision claiming that his online speech was protected under the First Amendment. What do you think? The judge stated at sentencing that “When you use speech in this manner, it’s not protected. It’s criminal.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
Update: In 2014, 18 year-old Michelle Carter encouraged her boyfriend to end his life. Conrad Roy, III had thought about doing this for some time. Michelle talked him into getting back into his truck after stepping out of it and he died of carbon monoxide poisoning. In 2017, she was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. See this post for further details: http://askthejudge.info/teen-charged-with-pressuring-boyfriend-to-commit-suicide/