The Norman Transcript

Nation/World

March 24, 2013

Charges tossed against right-to-die ex-head

MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota judge on Friday dismissed charges against the former head of a national right-to-die group accused in the death of an Apple Valley woman, saying Minnesota’s law against advising suicide is unconstitutionally overbroad.

In a late-afternoon ruling, Dakota County Judge Karen Asphaug dismissed charges against Thomas Goodwin, former president of Final Exit Network.

Goodwin was charged with aiding and abetting assistance of a suicide, a felony, and aiding and abetting in the interference with a death scene, a gross misdemeanor.

Goodwin and three other members of Final Exit Network were charged last year in the 2007 death of Doreen Dunn, who killed herself in her home. Prosecutors said the defendants not only supported Dunn’s decision to kill herself, but provided Dunn with information and support to follow through.

Final Exit members claim they do not encourage suicide, but that the act of giving information and emotional support could be interpreted as “encouraging” under a Minnesota law that makes it a felony for someone to intentionally assist, advise or encourage suicide.

Defense attorneys for the Final Exit members say Minnesota’s law is unconstitutional. In court documents, Final Exit Network general counsel Robert Rivas wrote that while the state may bar someone from “assisting” a suicide, it is unconstitutional for the state to ban “advising” or “encouraging” a suicide — pure speech.

Prosecutors contend the statute is narrowly worded so advocates of suicide may freely speak their minds but that those who “intentionally” assist, encourage or advise suicide are breaking the law.

In Goodwin’s case, Asphaug ruled that the “advising” portion of the state law was overbroad and therefore unconstitutional, while “encouraging” can be narrowly construed and passes constitutional muster.

Defendants asked that if Asphaug refused to dismiss the charges, that she give them permission to appeal.

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