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Did Michelle Carter Deserve Her Involuntary Manslaughter Conviction?
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Summary: Michelle Carter was convicted of manslaughter for telling her boyfriend to kill himself via text messages. While her actions were deplorable, was her conviction an overreach?

Last week, Michelle Carter, 20, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. When she was a teenager, she had influenced her depressed boyfriend to commit suicide through a series of text messages. Although the text messages were chilling, her conviction has many in the legal community wondering: What kind of precedent is this case setting? After all, how responsible are we for what we say through technology? Do our words matter as much as our actions? How obligated are we to help others?


Judge Lawrence Moniz said that Carter, then 17, put her boyfriend Conrad Roy III, 18, in a dangerous situation in 2014 and was obligated to notify authorities that he was in danger. The already suicide-obsessed teenager was in his truck, inhaling monoxide, and he exited his vehicle because he had second thoughts. He had been communicating with Carter the whole time, and she had instructed him to return to the truck and finish himself off.

Judge Moniz said that because Carter did not act to help that she was responsible for Roy’s suicide.

“The Commonwealth [of Massachusetts] has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms. Carter’s actions, and also her failure to act where she had a self-created duty to Mr. Roy since she had put him into that toxic environment, constituted each and all wanton and reckless conduct,” Moniz said.

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Moniz added that Carter should have told her boyfriend not to kill himself, and she now faces up to 20 years in prison. However, the state of Massachusetts where the suicide occurs does not have a specific law that criminalizes assisted suicide or encouraging suicide, according to Quartz, and there are no laws that require citizens to report attempted suicides to the police.

Moniz said that the decision in the Carter case was based on two cases: Commonwealth v. Levesque from 1999 and Commonwealth vs. George Bowen from 1816.

Commonwealth v. Levesque involved a homeless couple that failed to report a warehouse fire that killed six firefighters. Although the fire was accidental, the couple was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. In the Bowen case, prisoner George Bowen was tried and convicted for encouraging his fellow death row inmate to kill himself. According to University of Massachusetts history professor Jack Tager, citizens of Bowen’s town was outraged that they were deprived of watching the inmate die in a public execution.

Both cases are similar but dissimilar to Carter’s. With Levesque, the homeless couple did not intentionally start the fire, and with Bowen, George Bowen had encouraged the suicide of a person who was going to die for sure and wanted to take the action into his own hands.

During Carter’s trial, her defense team had argued that her boyfriend was depressed and had a history of suicide attempts and mental health issues. Carter’s lawyer Joseph Cataldo said that Carter was dragged into Roy’s problems and that he had died by his own hand.

“The evidence actually established that Conrad Roy caused his own death by his physical actions and by his own thoughts,” Cataldo said. “You’re dealing with an individual who wanted to take his own life. … He dragged Michelle Carter into this.”

Cataldo said he was “disappointed” in Judge Moniz’s ruling, and defense lawyer Ed Ryan who had represented the accused in the Levesque case said that Moniz should not have used that case in his ruling. Ryan said that Carter did not create the danger because Roy was already suicidal and therefore she did not have a duty to save him.

“I don’t think you can premise a conviction on her failure to act because without the creation of the danger, by the individual, there is no duty to act,” Ryan said to radio station WBUR.

Other legal analysts have said that this case is problematic because it can suppress free speech and create an overreach of what people are responsible for.

“This verdict is concerning because it reflects a judicial willingness to expand legal liability for another person’s suicide, an act which by definition is a completely independent choice. Historically, suicide has been considered a superseding act which breaks the chain of legal causation,” CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos said.

Carter is expected to receive sentencing on August 3.

Roy’s aunt Becki Maki, spoke with PEOPLE, and she said that she was pleased with the verdict.

Source: Quartz

What do you think about the Michelle Carter case? Let us know in the comments below.



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