Florida Teen Films His Suicide On Webcam

It seems I'll be on Channel 10's 6pm news broadcast explaining why tragedies like this one — Pembroke Pines teen broadcasts suicide on webcam — don't mean that we need a special set of cops and regulators for the Internet. (Earlier Channel 10 story, saying up to 1500 people were watching his broadcast; eventually someone called the Pembroke Pines cops, but they broke in too late to save Abraham Biggs Jr.)

The facts are grisly:

A Pembroke Pines teenager told an Internet audience he wanted to kill himself by drug overdose — and then he followed through on his macabre threat while a live webcam captured it, according to the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office.

Abraham Biggs Jr., 19, ingested a lethal mixture of three different drugs early Wednesday, then continued to blog about it while others watched online and egged him on.

The end of the video — which shows Pembroke Pines police busting into his bedroom and discovering his body — remained up on LiveVideo.com as of Friday morning.

Yes, I blame the people involved, not “the Internet”.

Florida has displaced the common-law rule against suicide with some statutory provisions. The most relevant one is aimed at assisted suicide (there's also § 782.081, banning premeditated commercial exploitation of a suicide, but that seems to me not to apply to these facts). Here's the relevant law:

782.08 Assisting self-murder.—Every person deliberately assisting another in the commission of self-murder shall be guilty of manslaughter, a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

The obvious legal questions, were a prosecutor to attempt the probably unwise project of indicting one or more of the 'egging on' crowd, are

  1. Does 'egging on' amount to 'deliberately assisting'?
  2. If the statute does make 'egging on' manslaughter, does the First Amendment prevent its operation because it protects this sort of speech?

My gut instinct — and I'll quickly admit this is not my field at all — is that 'egging on' does not amount to 'deliberately assisting' under this statute, which was pretty clearly aimed at physician assisted suicide, and cases where someone gives a depressed person guns or pills. I see the law as criminalizing the provision of tools in the main. Perhaps this could be extended to specialized knowledge, such as telling a depressed person how to make or find a gap in a protective fence at 'Suicide Gulch'. But I don't see it as extending to encouragement — even if a psychiatrist might testify (let us imagine) that the encouragement was a necessary element of the victim's decision.

Good thing, too, because the second question is much harder…

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5 Responses to Florida Teen Films His Suicide On Webcam

  1. Jessica says:

    I think that this is not about the internet at all. It was the kids choice yes the other kids were egging him on do you honestly think he wouldn’t have done it if i twas not for those kids? if you think that then your either not facing reality or your just stupid. lol that’s a bit harsh, i admit but true. its extremely sad though ):

  2. Shawn says:

    Look if he wanted to kill himself… he was going to do it no matter what! It sux he chose to pull this shyt, but we cannot blame other’s for his choice! Egged on or not, he made up his mind before all this, hence his swallowing of the pills beyond anyone’s control. *thin about it*

  3. Shawn says:

    Look if he wanted to kill himself… he was going to do it no matter what! It sux he chose to pull this shyt, but we cannot blame other’s for his choice! Egged on or not, he made up his mind before all this, hence his swallowing of the pills beyond anyone’s control. *thin about it*

  4. The “harder question”:

    If the statute does make ‘egging on’ manslaughter, does the First Amendment prevent its operation because it protects this sort of speech?

    Egging on a suicide truly appears to be an instantiation of yelling fire in a crowded theater. If people die in the theater panic, did the fire-yeller commit manslaughter?

  5. TexasFred says:

    I understand that these folks are distraught, but it is MY solid belief that the whole bunch of them is either loony toons, or simply looking for any venue that they may be able to attach blame. For crying out loud, the mother is using MySpace as a place to explain herself? Going online to talk about the death of a family member, immediately following that death, may be a strange new way of dealing with ones grief but it’s NOT what I would do or what I believe to be appropriate.

    The viewers of Justin.tv had NO WAY of knowing whether this was real or a stunt. They had NO WAY of determining the mental health of Biggs Jr., and it was NOT their responsibility to care for him.

    The responsibility for Biggs Jr. and his care fell to his family, his mother referred to his “mental illness of bipolarity and depression”, and if the death of Biggs Jr. is ANY indication, the family failed him miserably.

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