In State v. Stubbendieck,the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the first conviction for assisting suicidein state history,even though the Nebraska Legislature had criminalized assisting suicide more than forty years prior.The Nebraska Legislature made assisting suicide a Class IV felony in 1977 by enacting section 28-307 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes, which reads in pertinent part: “A person commits assisting suicide when, with intent to assist another person in committing suicide, he aids and abets him in committing or attempting to commit suicide.”In interpreting the statute for the first time, the Nebraska Supreme Court clarified the legal contours of assisting suicide in Nebraska but simultaneously raised new, difficult issues that must be resolved in future criminal prosecutions.

The bizarre and sensational facts of Stubbendieck take place against the backdrop of national controversy in the legal status of assisting suicide.In 2019 alone, New Jerseyand Maineboth legalized physician-assisted suicide.Further, the highly publicized case of Commonwealth v. Carter recently sparked controversy after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the involuntary manslaughter conviction of a defendant who pressured her depressed boyfriend, through text messages and phone calls, to kill himself.Accordingly, the first judicial interpretation of Nebraska’s assisting suicide statute warrants analysis to clarify the status of assisting suicide in Nebraska.

The Stubbendieck holding establishes an overly broad standard for assisting suicide in Nebraska.Under the standard established by the Nebraska Supreme Court in Stubbendieck, a defendant may engage in a moderate degree of involvement in the death of the victim—such as temporarily smothering and giving poison to the victim— and still only face prosecution for assisting suiciderather than homicide.Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, a Nebraska defendant may now incur criminal liability for assisting suicide by minimally participating in the victim’s death; mere verbal encouragement of suicide is sufficient to find guilt when suicide is attempted or completed.