A judge told her to walk away and live, but the lawyer for a woman who escaped serious penalty for her part in a suicide pact in which another woman died says she should not have been charged.
The 21-year-old Palmerston North woman, who has name suppression, admitted purposefully overdosing on pills with a 48-year-old woman in Otaki on May 1 last year.
She was convicted of the rare charge of entering into a suicide pact, but was discharged without further penalty in the High Court at Palmerston North yesterday.
She and the older woman were in a serious relationship, but the 48-year-old had been depressed and suicidal since the death of her civil union partner in 2009.
Justice Joseph Williams said that, on the night of the suicide pact, the older woman said she was going to kill herself and “take every pill in the house to do it”.
Not wanting to live without her partner, the 21-year-old said she would do the same. The pair swallowed about 80 pills each and passed out.
Only the young woman woke up the next morning, Justice Williams said.
Two factors persuaded him not to impose a sentence on the 21-year-old, he said. The first was that she did not convince the older woman to commit suicide, and the second was the younger woman’s personality disorder – which caused a fear of abandonment and made it hard for her to deal with adult situations.
“I find it difficult to blame you in a criminal sense for the decision you made. It makes more sense, given your background, to think of you as a victim, rather than an offender.”
Justice Williams said that after meeting the young woman, he could see she was a beautiful person both inside and out. He implored her to leave the court room and live her life.
Defence lawyer Fergus Steedman said it was the first time the High Court had dealt with such a charge and only the second time in about 50 years that someone facing the charge had lived to see sentencing.
He thought it “barbaric” that the police had charged the woman in the first place, but his feeling on the matter had softened a bit after witnessing Justice Williams exercise his discretion yesterday, he said.
A police spokesman said police were unable to answer questions from The Dominion Post as to why they forged ahead with the prosecution.
“Their stance will no doubt be that it’s not their job to act as judge and jury,” Mr Steedman said.
Professor John Dawson, from the University of Otago Law School, said police would have likely felt the need to be seen publicly discouraging suicide pacts.
[The Dominion Post was granted permission from Palmerston North Coroner Tim Scott to report the circumstances of the suicide pact, as they were disclosed in open court by Justice Williams].
Suicide pact charges ‘barbaric’
Article by Michael Forbes
The Dominion Post, Thursday, October 27, 2011
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