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    Is encouraging someone to commit suicide “protected speech?”

    Date: 06.27.11 | by Judge Tom.

    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.

    William Dinkel

    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?                   

    Nadia Kajouji (Canada)


    Mark Drybrough (England)

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    4 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Askthejudge.info
      Mon, 27 Jun 2011 at 10:55

      Man is sentenced to 1 year jail and 15 years probation for encouraging people online to commit suicide. http://fb.me/TcdzJDB7

    • Askthejudge.info
      Tue, 28 Jun 2011 at 12:41

      New blog post: Is encouraging someone to commit suicide "protected speech?" http://ow.ly/1du7l3

    • Divorce Lawyers Tulsa
      Sat, 27 Aug 2011 at 08:42

      Judge Tom I think that encouraging someone to committ suicide should be a criminal offense. We could call it ‘assisted murder’ or something similar.
      Thanks for your comments. It turned out to be criminal behavior in this case and like the infamous case of Dr. Kevorkian, assisting someone to commit suicide resulted in a prison sentence. However, Dr. Kevorkian did not necessarily “encourage” his patients, but actually assisted them.

    • Marianne Lombardo
      Tue, 20 Mar 2012 at 04:25

      My fifteen year old daughter was repeatedly encouraged by peers to commit suicide on Tumblr (Social media site). “The world would be a better place if you were dead.” “Are you suicidal? You should be. You have a ton of reason why you should be.” “Why don’t you do us all a favor and kill yourself?” Their comments nearly led her to do it. While I am so fortunate she did not, I want to prosecute these girls. We have the screenshots and two girls confessed. The local police told me that no crime was committed, as it was “Free Speech” and because no “threat of physical force” was made. I am still waiting word from the prosecutors office if they will pursue telecommunications harassment charges. Can you help me? We live in Ohio. thank you.
      Dear Marianne: You have done what’s necessary for law enforcement to make a decision about filing charges against your daughter’s perpetrators. They have to consider the evidence that exists and the laws that exist in your state. Even without a specific cyberbullying law, they may be able to charge harassment, stalking, intimidation or threatening. We’re glad your daufghter is safe and hopefully comfortable in opening up to you if this behavior occurs again. All the best.
      (This is information only – not legal advice).

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