73

According to dumblaws.com, in New York (City? State? or both?):

The penalty for jumping off a building is death.

It is the second most-voted weird law in NY in ranker.com also:

If Jumping Off a Building Doesn't Kill You... the City of NYC Will
The penalty for jumping off a building is death.

I couldn't find anything in the website below but maybe I didn't search properly:
http://public.leginfo.state.ny.us/navigate.cgi

Is this a made-up law or could it be a historical law?

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    Suicide attempt used to be punishable under English law: bbc.com/news/magazine-14374296 I don't think it was ever by death, but I didn't look too deep back in history. – Fizz Jan 17 '18 at 0:04
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    If this page is to be believed, the same was true in the US. And still illegal in Singapore apparently. Actually, there's a whole Wikipedia page en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_legislation – Fizz Jan 17 '18 at 0:10
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    Try looking at Physics laws: jumping won't kill you, but reaching the ground of the city at high velocity is sure death. – Cœur Jan 18 '18 at 5:23
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    Well, if I intentionally jump onto someone below, trying to kill them, and succeed.... "jumping off a building" can cover a very, very broad range of activities, not just an attempt to kill oneself from many stories up. – PoloHoleSet Jan 18 '18 at 23:08
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    I think you're misinterpreting "The penalty for jumping off a building is death." Read "penalty for" as "consequence of". ;-) – JonBrave Jan 20 '18 at 12:17
109

No, New York does not have the death penalty.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center:

In 1995 newly-elected Governor George Pataki fulfilled a campaign promise and signed legislation reinstating the death penalty in New York, designating lethal injection as the new method of execution. In 2004, that statute was declared unconstitutional by the New York Court of Appeals, and in 2007 the last remaining death sentence was reduced to life, leaving New York with a vacant death row and no viable death penalty laws. In 2008 Governor David Paterson issued an executive order requiring the removal of all execution equipment from state facilities.

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    Thanks. Could it be a historical law then? or is there any legit law that might have prompted this made-up law? – ermanen Jan 16 '18 at 20:25
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    In fact the quote says it is the city of NY and not the state. I think the city NEVER had a death penalty. – GEdgar Jan 16 '18 at 22:47
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    @GEdgar can the city of NY issue any criminal laws or assign the death penalty for anything? Isn't that the prerogative of the state? – Peteris Jan 17 '18 at 8:45
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    @Peteris NYC is surprisingly independent from the rest of the state -- for example, the firearms laws are pretty different (more restrictive) than in the rest of the state. I don't know how much this carries over, though. – Nic Hartley Jan 17 '18 at 20:58
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    @Steve-O, Romans had nothing against suicide - opening one's veins or falling on one's sword could even be the honourable thing to do. Suicide was forbidden to soldiers because it was tantamount to desertion (which could be punished by death, but it depended on circumstances), to slaves because they didn't own their life, and to people already sentenced to death (they would deprive the State of their estate). Later, to tackle the problem raised by fectin, sentenced suicides were considered carried-out sentences, and heirless - thus, problem solved. – LSerni Jan 20 '18 at 23:33
77

All laws related to attempted suicide in the State of New York were repealed before 1964. If the law had existed before then, it was never used.


Any laws against suicide that may have existed were repealed by the State of New York prior to 1964.

It should be emphasized that suicide is not against the law in most parts of the United States of America. According to written reports from the Attorney General of each of the states (in 1964), there are only nine states [...] in which suicide is a crime.

...

In recent times, two states (Nevada, New York) repealed such laws, stating in effect that suicide is a grave social wrong, but there is no way to punish it.


In addition to the fact that all laws regarding suicide were removed, and the death penalty hasn't existed in NY since 2007 (see also Oddthinking's answer), there has never been an instance of someone being executed for attempted suicide, reckless endangerment, or anything that could be construed as "jumping off a building" in the State of New York.

Wikipedia has a list of every person executed for crimes in the State of New York. Since 1800, the only persons on the list who were executed for something other than murder or conspiracy to murder are

All other executions on this list were for murder or conspiracy to murder.

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    @Acccumulation which would probably be a misdemeanor rather than a felony. Death would be an extreme penalty indeed for a misdemeanor... – jwenting Jan 17 '18 at 12:16
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    @Acccumulation Well there were no executions for reckless endangerment either. It looks like there were three ways to get killed by the State of NY: kill someone, be a famous spy, or do something bad during a war on US soil. – kingledion Jan 17 '18 at 16:37
  • This alone isn't evidence of no law. Do we know of any cases where people jumped and didn't die? Maybe it never happened, which could mean the law exists and never needed to be enforced. – Octopus Jan 17 '18 at 17:13
  • @Octopus bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11156342 – Dougal Jan 18 '18 at 3:29
  • @Dougal, it would make sense to use that case and argue that "since somebody did this and wasnt charged the law must not exist" but as it stands this answer is only arguing that "nobody was charged therefore the law doesnt exist". Its an incomplete argument. – Octopus Jan 18 '18 at 5:51
25

As an addendum to Oddthinking's answer...

Under the current US Constitutional regime (since 2008), the Death Penalty can only be applied by a state for crimes against people that are aggravated murder, or for a "crime against the state" (and the latter might be unconstitutional in some cases too. KvL didn't rule on that).

There are many more limitations, but these should be more than sufficient to invalidate any general law instituting capital punishment for suicide attempts. So not only is there no such law, but there cannot be any such (enforceable) law in the USA.

The central argument of this answer is theoretical in nature. We do not allow answers based uniquely on common sense or pure logic. Answers which are wholly based on a theoretical model are generally downvoted and may be deleted. See FAQ: What are theoretical answers?

  • Interesting point, though that ruling seems extremely tenuous, was decided 5-4, and was opposed by many from both political parties (including both Obama and McCain who were running for President at the time.) That said, while I wouldn't be shocked to see this particular ruling overturned in the future, I would indeed be very surprised if a future court ruled that the death penalty for attempted suicide (or any other similar crime for which jumping off of a building would qualify) did not violate the 8th Amendment. – reirab Jan 17 '18 at 6:50
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    Just wanted to point out that you can in fact murder someone by jumping off a building and landing on them. Perhaps not the best way but... – pipe Jan 17 '18 at 9:13
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    @9ilsdx9rvj0lo - Not really. Even in a crowded street there will usually be a foot or more between people - you will be very lucky to hit six people, and you will be unlikely to kill them all. – Martin Bonner Jan 17 '18 at 12:55
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    @pipe - In 1965 an Italian woman was dumped by her boyfriend when he was in her (upper story) apartment. He then left. After a minute or two, she decided she couldn't live without him. She jumped through her apartment window. However, he was just leaving the apartment building and she landed on him. He died. She survived. – WhatRoughBeast Jan 17 '18 at 20:00
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    @Sklivvz - The question in the title is not "Was a law ever passed?", it is "Is there a Death Penalty...?" I'm answering that directly (just like the currently top-voted answer is). There is not (regardless of what might technically be in the books). Also note that its arguable if any statute invalidated by a supreme court decision can be considered "a law". Many states in the US still have anti-sodomy statutes, but they are all unenforceable. Its arguable whether the are "laws" or not (depends on what you mean by that word), but there are indisputably no "penalties" for violating them. – T.E.D. Jan 19 '18 at 18:58
1

There is a very good chance that the "law" is spurious, but it's entirely possible that such a law once existed. See the Wiki article Criminalization of Attempted Suicide If it ever existed in New York, I'm pretty sure that New York City did not have the authority to execute people, so as stated the law is probably bogus. There may have been a Colonial-era law, though.

Through the 1960s attempted suicide was in many places a crime (although the law was hardly ever enforced). The analysis was that the person had attempted (with premeditation) to kill a person. This made it attempted murder. In the 1800's attempted suicide in Britain was punishable by hanging.

1

The United States of America has four levels of government that make laws: federal, state, county, and municipal.

The federal government and at the present time 31 of the 50 states have death penalties.

Did or do any counties and municipalities have death penalties or the power to decree death penalties for crimes?

The fourteenth amendment to the US Consitution, section 1, says:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This clearly says that states cannot deprive any person of life without due process of law. It says nothing about counties or municipalities depriving people of life without due process of law, which would have been a strange omission if counties and municipalities had death penalties or could have death penalties.

I strongly suspect that for centuries no county or municipality in the USA has had the authority to enact death penalty legislation.

Therefore the statement that:

If Jumping Off a Building Doesn't Kill You... the City of NYC Will The penalty for jumping off a building is death.

could only be correct in the sense that courts physically located in the City of New York could apply state or federal laws to sentence someone to death for jumping off a building.

New York State laws and their penalties should be equally applicable everywhere in New York State where it is physically possible to break them. Since there should be buildings in every county and municipality in New York State, any New York law against jumping off of buildings should apply equally in every county and municipality in New York State.

Federal laws and their penalties should apply everywhere within the USA where it is possible to break them. Since there should be buildings in every state, county, and municipality in the USA, any hypothetical federal law against jumping off of buildings should apply equally in every state, county, and municipality in the USA.

Possibly there are restrictions to the law, like only jumping off of buildings that have sidewalks below. But a state law would cover many places in New York State with sidewalks below buildings and a federal law would cover many more places with sidewalks below buildings in all of the states.

Maybe the law prohibits jumping off buildings over a certain height.

The tallest building in New York State outside of New York City is the Erastus Corning Tower in Albany, at 589 feet or 180 meters. At the present time there are 113 buildings in New York City over 600 feet (183 meters) tall, so a state law against jumping off a building over 600 tall would only apply to those 113 buildings.

If there was a federal law against jumping off buildings over a specific height, the only way for it to apply only in New York City or New York State would be for the height limit to be somewhere between 1,451 feet (453 meters), the height of the Willis Tower in Chicago, and 1776 feet (541 meters) the height of One World trade Center in New York City, and it would only apply to one building at the present.

It is easy to believe that jumping off a building could count as an charge of committing reckless endangerment, attempted murder, attempted suicide, etc. If a criminal was planning to commit a crime and the police tried to stop him, jumping off a building could count as resisting arrest or fleeing from custody, and could be a count in the charge of attempting to commit the other crime he was trying to commit.

I don't believe that jumping off a building would be a specific crime in itself with a specific penalty instead of simply being a method of committing another crime.

But the laws can be very strange so there may be a slight possibility that there could be a law in New York City or State specifically against jumping off a building.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    This is not an answer by the standards of this site. We are not looking for theoretic arguments but for citations. So you should be linking to a scientific study, a legal case, or even something like a Snopes page. That source might make the same arguments but then it would be a source and not just something you made up. Note: I'm not arguing that anything you said is untrue. I'm just saying that for site purposes, it doesn't matter. This isn't cited (well, except for the 14th amendment). It's not an answer. – Brythan Jan 18 '18 at 5:18
  • @brythan depends on who is writing the answer. – The Great Duck Jan 18 '18 at 21:50
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    This is not an answer, you are required to address the claim directly, through some citation or reference and not answer indirectly with a theoretical schema such as "if it were true it would be against the constitution". Either such a law was ever passed or it was not: unconstitutional laws are passed often, it's not like they don't exist... – Sklivvz Jan 19 '18 at 7:16
  • @Sivvz then they wouldnt be laws then would they? – The Great Duck Jan 19 '18 at 23:14
  • Counties and municipalities act under the authority delegated to them by the state. Any restriction on state action applies equally to counties and municipalities. – phoog Jan 20 '18 at 18:19

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