Feed on

Press Release by the Final Exit Network 03.21.14

ST. PAUL, Minnesota – A Minnesota law that prohibits “advising, encouraging, or assisting” in a “suicide” is unconstitutional in violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, the Supreme Court of Minnesota has ruled.

In a 27-page opinion handed down on Wednesday, March 19, the Supreme Court struck the words “advising” and “encouraging” out of the Minnesota statute, leaving only the word “assisting.” The decision means the Exit Guides of Final Exit Network may not be convicted of a crime for providing information, education, and emotional support to suffering Network members, but may be convicted only if they provide actual assistance in self-deliverance – something the Network does not do.

Though the Network and two of its Exit Guides are being prosecuted in Dakota County, Minnesota for “advising, encouraging, or assisting” in a “suicide,” the Supreme Court decision was not directly a ruling in the Network’s case.

The Supreme Court ruling came in the case of William Frances Melchert-Dinkel, a nurse who was convicted of “advising, encouraging, or assisting” in the deaths of a suicidally depressed young man in England and a young woman in Canada.

After Melchert-Dinkel was convicted in the small town of Faribault, he appealed to the intermediate Court of Appeals of Minnesota, which ruled that the Minnesota statute was constitutional in its entirety. While that case was pending, the Network and two of its exit guides were charged with violating the same statute. Melchert-Dinkel later appealed the Court of Appeals decision to the Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Fearing that a bad precedent in the Melchert-Dinkel case would be harmful to the Network’s defense, the Network filed a brief amicus curiae (a “friend-of-the-court brief”) in the Supreme Court in the Melchert-Dinkel case, arguing that the statute was unconstitutional.

“We are so pleased that the Supreme Court of Minnesota saw the Melchert-Dinkel case the way we did,” said the Network’s president, Wendell Stephenson. “The Supreme Court’s reasoning is pretty much what we argued in our amicus brief.”

The Dakota County trial court dismissed the Network charges on grounds that the statute was unconstitutional. The State appealed to the Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals – a different panel than the one that had ruled in the Melchert-Dinkel case – made exactly the opposite ruling as the one in the Melchert-Dinkel case, finding the “advising” and “encouraging” provisions of the statute unconstitutional.

Thus, the two conflicting Court of Appeals decisions went before the Supreme Court for a tie-breaker. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court put the State’s appeal of the Network’s victory in the Court of Appeals on hold pending a resolution of the Melchert-Dinkel case, which was older.

“Now, it appears to me that there is no need for our case to be argued to the Supreme Court. The legal issues have been decided once and for all in our favor,” said Robert Rivas, the Network’s general counsel. “We have to wait to see exactly what the Supreme Court tells us to do, but they might just dismiss our case and remand it to the lower courts for reconsideration in light of the Melchert-Dinkel decision.”

In Dakota County, the Network, its former medical director Dr. Larry Egbert of Baltimore, and a case coordinator, Robera Massey, are charged with “advising, encouraging, or assisting” in a “suicide,” and with “interfering with evidence at the scene of a death.” The latter charge will have to be resolved by the trial court when the appeals are concluded. The State will also have to decide whether to attempt to convict the Network defendants with “assisting” in a suicide – a charge for which, the Network insists, there is no evidence whatsoever.
Wendell Stephenson, President

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.