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Dakota County Attorney's News Release

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Monica Jensen
651-438-4440

Update on Final Exit Network Case in Dakota County
   
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom announced that his office has filed an appeal in connection with the District Court’s recent ruling in connection with the prosecution of Final Exit Network, and Defendant’s Lawrence Egbert, and Roberta Massey.  On appeal the County Attorney’s Office intends to challenge whether the District Court erred in finding that Minnesota Statute §609.215, Subdivision 1 was facially overbroad and unconstitutional under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as it relates to imposing criminal liability for “advising” a person in the taking of their own life. 

Brief description of claims, defenses, and issues litigated include: 

On May 11, 2012 the Dakota County Grand Jury returned an indictment charging* Defendants Final Exit Network (FEN), Lawrence Egbert, Roberta Massey, Thomas Goodwin and Jerry Dincin with various charges involving the criminal offenses of Assisting Another to Commit Suicide, Interference With a Death Scene, and Interference with a Death Scene (Aiding or Abetting).  The charges arose out of the investigation into the death of Doreen Dunn, which occurred on May 30, 2007.  It is alleged that Doreen Dunn took her own life after contacting and receiving advice and encouragement from Final Exit Network and the above-named defendants.  Ms. Dunn’s manner and cause of death was suicide by helium asphyxiation. 

The Defendants in this matter filed various pretrial motions challenging the indictment, including a constitutional challenge to the Minnesota Assisted Suicide statute.  In its constitutional challenge the Defendants alleged that the statutory language prohibiting a person from   “advising” or “encouraging” another in taking of one’s own life violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  More specifically, the Defendants alleged that the terms “advising” and “encouraging” are facially overly broad to the extent that they infringe on speech that is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. Defendants did not challenge the constitutionality of the term “assists” as it was interpreted by the parties to require physical assistance.

On March 22, 2013, the District Court filed an order in which it determined that the term “advising” was overly broad and unconstitutional as it infringes on speech that is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.  In addition, the District Court narrowed the construction of the term “encouraging” to only include physical acts or language “promoting or urging” a person to commit suicide.  Upon reaching the above determinations, the District Court ruled that the prosecution of certain Defendants in this case could proceed as there remained sufficient probable cause on whether the Defendants physically assisted or encouraged (as interpreted by the District Court) Doreen Dunn in the taking of her own life. 

Backstrom indicated that his office will not be appealing the dismissal of defendant Thomas Goodwin on probable cause grounds (he did not have direct contact with Doreen Dunn prior to her death, but was the President of FEN at the time), but will be contesting the District Court’s decision as it relates to the Final Exit Network (the corporation) and individual defendants Lawrence Egbert, and Roberta Massey.  Defendant Jerry Dincin, who also was initially charged in this case died last week and the charges against him have been dismissed as a result of his death.
 
Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom announced that his office has filed an appeal in connection with the District Court’s recent ruling in connection with the prosecution of Final Exit Network, and Defendant’s Lawrence Egbert, and Roberta Massey.  On appeal the County Attorney’s Office intends to challenge whether the District Court erred in finding that Minnesota Statute §609.215, Subdivision 1 was facially overbroad and unconstitutional under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution as it relates to imposing criminal liability for “advising” a person in the taking of their own life. 
 
Brief description of claims, defenses, and issues litigated include: 
 
On May 11, 2012 the Dakota County Grand Jury returned an indictment charging* Defendants Final Exit Network (FEN), Lawrence Egbert, Roberta Massey, Thomas Goodwin and Jerry Dincin with various charges involving the criminal offenses of Assisting Another to Commit Suicide, Interference With a Death Scene, and Interference with a Death Scene (Aiding or Abetting).  The charges arose out of the investigation into the death of Doreen Dunn, which occurred on May 30, 2007.  It is alleged that Doreen Dunn took her own life after contacting and receiving advice and encouragement from Final Exit Network and the above-named defendants.  Ms. Dunn’s manner and cause of death was suicide by helium asphyxiation. 
 
The Defendants in this matter filed various pretrial motions challenging the indictment, including a constitutional challenge to the Minnesota Assisted Suicide statute.  In its constitutional challenge the Defendants alleged that the statutory language prohibiting a person from   “advising” or “encouraging” another in taking of one’s own life violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  More specifically, the Defendants alleged that the terms “advising” and “encouraging” are facially overly broad to the extent that they infringe on speech that is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. Defendants did not challenge the constitutionality of the term “assists” as it was interpreted by the parties to require physical assistance.
 
On March 22, 2013, the District Court filed an order in which it determined that the term “advising” was overly broad and unconstitutional as it infringes on speech that is constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.  In addition, the District Court narrowed the construction of the term “encouraging” to only include physical acts or language “promoting or urging” a person to commit suicide.  Upon reaching the above determinations, the District Court ruled that the prosecution of certain Defendants in this case could proceed as there remained sufficient probable cause on whether the Defendants physically assisted or encouraged (as interpreted by the District Court) Doreen Dunn in the taking of her own life. 
 
 Backstrom indicated that his office will not be appealing the dismissal of defendant Thomas Goodwin on probable cause grounds (he did not have direct contact with Doreen Dunn prior to her death, but was the President of FEN at the time), but will be contesting the District Court’s decision as it relates to the Final Exit Network (the corporation) and individual defendants Lawrence Egbert, and Roberta Massey.  Defendant Jerry Dincin, who also was initially charged in this case died last week and the charges against him have been dismissed as a result of his death.
 
Backstrom indicated that his office will not be appealing the dismissal of defendant Thomas Goodwin on probable cause grounds (he did not have direct contact with Doreen Dunn prior to her death, but was the President of FEN at the time), but will be contesting the District Court’s decision as it relates to the Final Exit Network (the corporation) and individual defendant’s Lawrence Egbert, and Roberta Massey.  Defendant Jerry Dincin, who also was initially charged in this case died last week and the charges against him have been dismissed as a result of his death.
 
Facts pertaining to this case are available at http://www.dakotacounty.us/LawJustice/CriminalComplaint.  To view prior news releases, go to http://www.dakotacounty.us/LawJustice/AttorneyNewsReleases.
 
 *Criminal charges are not evidence of guilt.  A defendant/suspect is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.