2018 Virginia Legislature votes to keep law that states suicide is a crime
13th Century Old English Common Law is Upheld
HB 42 Suicide; abolishes common-law crime.
Introduced by: Kaye Kory
Summary as introduced:
Abolish the common-law crime of suicide. Suicide is currently a common-law crime in Virginia, although there is no statutorily prescribed punishment.
Richmond, VA – Nine families affected by suicide of a loved one showed up at the Virginia Legislative session on a snowy day in January 17, 2018 to appeal to the Courts & Justice Subcommittee at the General Assembly to abolish the common-law that states suicide is a crime. Currently, there is no state that by statute makes the completion of suicide a crime and the majority of states have gradually repealed the common-law crime.
This law dates back to early English common-law where it was considered a ‘felon on himself.’ The person found guilty of it, even though dead, was subject to various punishments including a profane burial. A burial was considered “profane” when the body of the deceased was somehow desecrated to show disapproval of the person’s actions in life. Profane burials for people who died by suicide usually took place at night, and people were often buried with a stake driven through their heart. They were never buried at a graveyard, but at a crossroads, with no priests or mourners present.
The most recent states to remove the common-law crime of suicide include New Jersey (1971), North Carolina (1973), North Dakota (1973), and Washington (1976).
Delegate Kaye Kory, D, Fairfax County, introduced the bill to decriminalize suicide and she worked with the Commonwealth’s Attorney. The subcommittee objections hinged on assisted suicide and Del. Kory and the Commonwealth’s Attorney pointed out that there were statutes already for assisted suicide and this abolishment was not an argument for or against that controversial subject nor would it promote or give permission for assisted suicide.
Shirley Ramsey, a survivor of suicide loss and Chapter Chair of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), said, “This is so disappointing to families who have lost a loved one to suicide. Labeling suicide a crime adds to the grief and stigma of the mental illness that causes it.”
Although the Virginia General Assembly abolished penalties for suicide years ago, the fact that in some cases suicide can be considered a crime may still have important results for the families of the person who died by suicide. Yet Virginia refuses to abolish the common-law crime of suicide as have many other states.
Beacon Tree is a nonprofit started in Midlothian in 2008. Our mission is to educate, create access to care and funding for families in Virginia with youth suffering mental illness. We are spearheading initiatives related to suicide screening in physician practices and providing support through our family grant program.
Video and pictures:
Pictures of the legislature vote: (Scroll to the bottom)
:04 video of Courts & Justice Legislature Committee: https://photos.app.goo.gl/vim0QN3zTD0jZU993
The bill introduced
The voting group
Kaye Korey presenting the bill at Courts & Justice Subcommittee