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New courtchallenges for Final Exit Network in Minnesota

Robert Rivas, FEN’s attorney, reported: 

Three volunteer Exit Guides appeared before a judge to face an indictment on serious felony charges levelled merely because they showed compassion for a member of Final Exit Network.

Doreen Gunderson Dunn, then 57, delivered herself from extreme, irremediable suffering on May 30, 2007.  Because she chose to keep her decision to herself, others assumed that she died from natural causes.

More than five years later, during a sweltering heat wave, Dr. Larry Egbert, FEN’s former medical director, Ted Goodwin, the founding former president, and Roberta Massey, a former case coordinator, appeared in Hastings to be fingerprinted, photographed, booked, and released until their trial, which “ if the charges are not dismissed “ may be years away.  Jerry Dincin, Goodwin’s successor as president, was also indicted, but was excused from appearing in person because he is under treatment for metastatic cancer.  The 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation Final Exit Network, Inc. is also under indictment.

The “initial appearance” on July 2 was mostly a formality at which the defendants formally submit to the jurisdiction of the court in order for proceedings to begin.Judge Karen Asphaug invited the prosecutors to state whether the State of Minnesota would ask that bail be required to be posted in order for the defendants to be released until their trial. “No,” said Philip Prokopowicz, the chief assistant Dakota County attorney. The State would not be asking for bail to be imposed. Therefore, the defendants returned home without seeing the inside of a jail cell, “released on their own recognizance” in legal parlance.

Next, Judge Asphaug asked the prosecutors wanted any other conditions of pre-trial release to be required.  Prokopowicz asked that the defendant Final Exit Network, Inc. be prohibited from “assisting in any suicides in the State of Minnesota” pending trial.

FEN’s attorney, Robert Rivas, responded: “We could never agree to a term of pre-trial release that is worded so that it implies that Final Exit Network assists in suicides anywhere else.  Final Exit Network does not participate in any illegal assistance in suicides, anywhere.”

In ruling on this issue, Judge Asphaug imposed a compromise. As a condition of pre-trial release, she required FEN to commit to “be law abiding”, and to “comply with the law” in all of its activities.  FEN’s attorney said that would not be a problem.  In its Exit Guide program, FEN provides information, education, and emotional support to carefully screened individuals who have competently elected to die rather than suffer under hopeless circumstances.  It has been reported by some news media that FEN argues that laws against ?assisting in a suicide? are unconstitutional.  That is not true.

In its legal position, FEN acknowledges that a state may make ?assisting in a suicide? a crime, in the current state of the law, without violating anyone’s constitutional rights.  The laws prohibiting “aiding” or “assisting” in a “suicide” in most states prohibit one from providing direct, physical assistance in a “suicide” or providing the means.  Minnesota’s law, however, like the laws of only four other states, prohibits “advising” or “assisting” in a “suicide” or “encouraging” a suicide.  Although FEN does not “advise” anyone in favour of self-deliverance, or “encourage” a suicide, those terms are so vague that they could easily be interpreted to prohibit what FEN actually does.  FEN will attempt to show that the Minnesota law violates the  First Amendment rights of FEN and its volunteer Exit Guides by prohibiting the exercise of free speech to the extent that it prohibits not only “assisting” in a suicide, but “advising” or “encouraging” a suicide.

Judge Asphaug set a schedule for briefing the defendants’ First Amendment argument.  FEN’s motion to dismiss the indictment based on the Minnesota statute’s unconstitutionality is required to be filed by August 13, 2012.  The State is required to file a brief in response to FEN’s position by August 27.  FEN is allowed to submit a “reply brief” by two weeks after that.The attorneys for both sides will appear before Judge Asphaug at 9 a.m. on October 15 to argue all pending motions, including the motion to dismiss the indictment based on its unconstitutionality.

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(thanks to ERGO)