This article explores the possibility and advisability of imposing homicide charges against bullies, a controversial approach because of the serious causation questions it poses. Nonetheless, there is precedent for holding a person criminally culpable for a victim’s suicide. A notorious case involved the head of the Ku Klux Klan who was convicted of murder after the woman he raped killed herself by swallowing poison, “distracted by pain and shame so inflicted upon her.” Some may see her shame as analogous to gay teens who commit suicide after being bullied about their sexual orientation. But perhaps the law should not demand that free will be completely lacking before a person is charged for another’s suicide. In other instances such as provocation, the criminal law recognizes that the relationship between victim and defendant shapes culpability. This article explores whether it is feasible and desirable to do so with suicides.
Part I provides background on cyber-bullying with a focus on two highly-publicized cases. Causation rules and their application in suicide-by-victim cases are laid out in Part II. Part III assesses whether homicides charges would be possible against a bully. It suggests the all-or-nothing approach to causation, and its exceptions are based on artificial and outmoded reasoning. For example, using the Stephenson reasoning, a prosecutor would have to paint a bullying victim as mentally unstable and irresponsible. For victims of bullying who are considering suicide, these prosecutions reinforce their sense of hopelessness and helplessness because they blame the bully for the victims’ suicidal acts. The goal, instead, should be to empower bullying victims to seek other avenues to escape their bullies, to feel that they have choices; and that suicide is not an option. The bully should be punished, but the focus should be on his actions, not on the victim’s response. Using a comparative causation analysis, as some scholars propose, we look to a person’s role in another’s death and punish according to the amount he contributed to the death. Factors such as the imbalance of power between the bully and his victim, and the nature and severity of the bullying should be considered in determining whether a person who has a role in another’s suicide should be punished.
Recommended CitationAudrey Rogers, Death by Bullying: A Comparative Culpability Proposal, 35 Pace L. Rev. 343 (2014)
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