Massachusetts Teenager Charged With Manslaughter For Encouraging Suicide

michelle-carter-conrad-roy-iii-charged-with-manslaughter-for-urging-teen-boys-suicide-leadmichelle-carter-conrad-roy-iii-charged-with-manslaughter-for-urging-teen-boys-suicide-leadThere is a deeply troubling case out of Massachusetts where prosecutors have charged Michelle Carter, 18, with the death of Conrad Roy, 18. What is different about the case is that there is no dispute that Roy killed himself. Carter is being charged for text messages encouraging Roy to go through with the suicide. If true, Carter played a despicable role in this death but the question is whether it should be treated as a crime when it was Roy who made the decision and took the action to take his own life. I have previously written how such cases should be handled by civil litigation as a general rule.


This case is part of a growing trend of criminalizing statements linked to suicides (here and here and here).

The suicide occurred last July after Roy drove his truck to a K-Mart in Fairhaven with a gas generator. Police say that he got out of the truck and texted Carter to say that he was not sure that he wanted to do it. Carter texted back with “Get back in.” Roy did and died.

After the death, Carter posted messages on social media saying how she missed Conrad and, in September, she organized “Homers for Conrad,” a fundraiser to raise awareness about suicide. One tweet read “I can’t believe today already marks 4 months without you. I love you and miss you always Conrad…”

I find the alleged actions of Carter to be disgusting and deeply troubling. However, I fail to see the line between speech and criminal conduct. Indeed, there is no action here but speech. What is the difference between what she did and thousands of others advocating suicide on the Internet or people calling for others to jump off bridges or ledges. She certainly knew Conrad but that does not necessarily change the legal equation. If she can be charged with manslaughter, where do we draw the line in cases of speech. It would allow prosecutors to pick and choose who is viewed as responsible for the actions of others. The standard of charging someone for being a “strong influence” is dangerously vague and could sweep far into protected speech.

Roy graduated high school a month before his suicide. Carter graduates high school in June.

38 thoughts on “Massachusetts Teenager Charged With Manslaughter For Encouraging Suicide”

  1. I encourage everyone on this list… everyone in the whole ZeusOloonie world …. to do everything they want to do or have ever wanted to do …. do it now …….. 99guspuppet

  2. Paul – Wally is not supposed to be here – whoever he is – he is banned

  3. Wally – you need to stop writing things that are getting you deleted. This is a moderated site.

  4. Hmm. “Free speech” has (generally?) a “public” nature to it. The speech in this case was private. There’s some degree that compos-mentis adults don’t have to be protected from speech.

    If the tellings in the above links are accurate, there’s an insidiousness to this that is particularly awful. Carter, over a period of time, professed concern publically while encouraging the suicide privately. It wasn’t the opportunistic “jump, jump” but something much more premeditated.

  5. Without knowing Massachusetts law, my guess would be that, if Carter had encouraged Roy to kill a third person, she could be prosecuted for Murder I, even though her complicity constituted only speech. There are a number of crimes the elements of which do not require anything more from the defendant than speech: threats, some assaults, certain kinds of disorderly conduct. The fact that Carter’s participation in the events at issue amounted solely to speech does not and should not insulate her conduct from criminal prosecution.

  6. Karen.

    I thought of that too…..Munchhausen by Proxy. That could even be a defense that she could use.

  7. Could this be considered Munchausen by Proxy? She wanted him to die so she could get attention as his grieving friend?

  8. Tragic. His parents must be devastated. To know that this troubled young woman encouraged him to kill himself must be incredibly painful. And what a revelation for Carter’s parents – that she was so lacking in character as to do this.

  9. Many jurisdictions consider it a crime to assist others–either directly, indirectly or through the use of encouragement–in the taking of their own lives. Not all speech is protected speech. It is my understanding that suicide is not regarded as a crime in the State of California; however, aiding, advising, encouraging or assisting another to commit suicide is a felony, which is punishable from 16 months to 3 years in prison, according tho the California Penal Code, Section 401. Her remarks to this young man, in my humble opinion, could easily be viewed as “advising and encouraging” under the circumstances. Her text to him to “get back in”. . .inferring that he needed to take imminent action and complete the task. . .will be her demise if she is ever prosecuted.

  10. Paul C. Schulte

    There is a school of thought that says since an attempted suicide is a cry for help, taunting them is a good thing.

    Yes,

    I know about that school of thought. I lived with it for 6 years. It is sad when you mention something ambiguous like this on the internet and someone assumes you are an evil rotten person that would taunt a suicidal person

  11. @bigfatmike

    “In my opinion the free speech argument aspects of the case completely miss the diminished capability aspect of an emotional decision for suicide.”

    Leaving aside for a moment the reality of the slippery slope of prosecuting people for what they say, rather than for what they do, have you considered the patent diminished capacity of the young woman who’s been charged?

  12. So far we only have media reports of this incident, which as we all know may not tell the whole story. I will wait until more facts are developed to make a final judgment of the accused. However, a report from CNN indicates that the local District Attorney has a ” familial relationship” with the victim’s family. Although he has purportedly recused himself from the investigation, there remains an issue whether this case would have been investigated for criminal conduct without someone pressing the issue.

    This may be an example of a family, which cannot accept that their young person made a terrible personal decision, and is attempting to punish someone else for that person’s action. As a society I find that many cannot accept personal responsibility and attempt to blame someone else. In this case, it was his decision to commit suicide and his family should accept that.

    As to a legal case against the young women, I do not know how much, if any, her intent is part of the case. Would she be guilty of some criminal act, if she intentionally drove him to suicide? Or would a flippant comment not intended to cause harm be enough? Personally, I don’t see criminal liability without a strong showing of actual intent to harm.

  13. ” the diminished capability aspect of an emotional decision for suicide

    Decision for suicide does not presume diminished capability, nor ’emotional.’
    It might be entirely rational, dispassionate, and wrong.

    I wonder how libertarians view suicide.
    If, like abortion, it’s up to the individual, counselling someone to commit suicide cannot be wrong either.

  14. Pogo, Tony Soprano’s mom would create conflict and then make herself the victim. She conspired to have her own son clipped and was prepared to be the grieving mother. Personality disorder is just another word for evil. We know the type!

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