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. BFM, Your usual thoughtful comment. I wish you spent more time here.

  2. Evil, not criminal.

    She wanted him to die so that people would feel sorry for her.
    Her sin seems compounded by that guileless and pretty smile.
    There are medical terms to characterize her, but “evil” is sufficient.

    There seem to be so many people these days without a moral rudder.

  3. What Carter allegedly did is indeed despicable, but as Professor Turley says, this case is deeply troubling and a serious threat to freedom of speech.

    He writes that “This case is part of a growing trend of criminalizing statements linked to suicides (here and here and here).”

    The case is also part of a growing trend of criminalizing a *multitude* of behaviors for the benefit of prosecutors and the police, rather than for reasons of public safety and the protection of property rights.

    For extensive documentation of this alarmingly authoritarian trend, see *The Tyranny of Good Intentions: How Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice* (2008), by Paul Craig Roberts and Lawrence Stratton.

    The book documents …”legal cases and prosecutorial misbehavior that have eroded the legal principles that the Founding Fathers placed in the U.S. Constitution to protect the American people from arbitrary and unaccountable power.”

    As Harvey Silverglate, former head of the Massachusetts ACLU, writes, “Roberts and Stratton, who performed a huge service to the rights and liberties of all of us in their original edition of *Tyranny*, now bring their important book into the era of the War on Terror. Their original book warned us that things would get worse, and sure enough, they have.”

  4. On the other hand we regularly punish people for taking advantage of those with diminished capability or cognitive difficulties.

    I see little difference protecting those with diminished capability from abuse and punishing some one for misleading a deeply troubled person on the cusp of making an irrevocable decision such as suicide.

    The aspect of misleading a person with diminished capability is not present in cases, for example, of an adviser is counseling a person with a terminal illness in which there are strong arguments that the decision is rational.

    I don’t see any problem structuring laws to distinguish this kind of case. However I am not sure current laws recognize the diminished capability of those in the emotional throes of considering suicide.

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

  5. Personally, she seems to be an excuse for a human. But criminally, no way she should be charged.

  6. … And if we can hold others accountable for OUR actions simply by abusing, or exploiting, powers of persuasion, then Krispy Kreme, Taco Bell & Publix are guilty for making me fat (they caught me at a vulnerable moment), is guilty of hookin’ me up with a poor choice, Marlboro is guilty for making me smoke, alcohol bottlers are guilty for making me drink, and the funeral director is REALLY guilty for putting ideas of death in my head.

    So basically, had this girl actually profited from the boy’s death, she could chalk it up to successful marketing … right? Oooh … think of all the billable possibilities!!

    She is certainly a loathsome individual, but guilty of her boyfriend’s suicide she is not.

    1. Hhmmm – tobacco companies have been sued for causing people to smoke, so there is that.

  7. What she did is despicable and twisted. But I don’t think she could be convicted of manslaughter since she didn’t directly kill him. Possibly some other charge.. perhaps depraved indifference to human life?

  8. If one really owns their own body and has a right to take their own life, then what is wrong in a criminal sense with someone supporting that decision? You may not like it but there was no crime here.

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

  10. If assisted suicide is against the law in this jurisdiction then she should be charged and penalized at the most severe end of the curve. It is one thing to help a person who is at the end of their life, in pain, with nothing to look forward to but a few months or even years of misery, to end it. It is another thing to take part in a youths’s instability, helping to push him to kill himself. If she understood the pain and misery he was suffering, truly enough to council him to kill himself, then she would have been there going on that trip with him. This is nothing more than a sicko who must be made an example. Giver her the maximum sentence under the law.

  11. Murphy, My armchair diagnosis is personality disorder. I have much experience dealing w/ a woman w/ personality disorder.

  12. Wow, she is a sick evil person that pushed her boyfriend to kill himself. She took advantage of his mental state for her own personal gain probably college related.

  13. Yes, if a person with “authority” advises suicide, then, maybe. But a friend?

  14. Michelle is your quintessential psychopath/sociopath. She’s a truly disgusting person. Hope they are able to lock her up for a very long time.

    Click here to read more of this story:

    I remember reading this frightening article about child psychopaths in the NYT a couple of years ago.

  15. A civil action by the deceased’s family should be the remedy. A good plaintiff’s attorney should be able to tap into this b!tch’s parents homeowners insurance.

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