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Teen-Age Assisted Suicide Texter to Stand Trial

Clarkston Legal July 15, 2016

Jeeze, sorry about that headline. Nothing, however, quite captures the spirit of our time as our teen-aged youth.

In this intriguing case, Michelle Carter was 17-years old when her boyfriend of sorts, Conrad Roy, -the two had not seen each other in over a year, just text messages- committed suicide using his truck to inflict carbon monoxide poisoning. During his suicide attempt, Roy appeared to have doubts about what he was doing; Ms. Carter texted Roy to get back into his truck and finish the job.

He did, and his death led police to Ms. Carter’s door after they reviewed the thousands of missives exchanged between the two. Over the course of months, Carter repeatedly encouraged Roy to follow-through with his suicide plan.

Based strictly on her electronic communications with Roy, Ms. Carter was charged with involuntary manslaughter. Unlike Michigan, Massachusetts does not have an assisted suicide statute criminalizing conduct associated with a suicide. Therefore, the involuntary manslaughter charge is already a stretch.

Over the past 18-months, Carter’s defense lawyers challenged the initial indictment all the way to the Massachusetts Superior Court.

The trial court denied Carter’s motion to quash the indictment. Her defense team argued that her text messages to Roy were protected by the First Amendment and thus, she cannot be constitutionally charged with a crime on the sole basis of the text messages. They also asserted that she lacked the actus reus of the charged crime; that she was not present; that she did not supply Roy with the physical means of his death; that her only involvement was limited to mere words, albeit words of encouragement.

The High Court affirmed the lower court ruling in a very interesting 23-page slip opinion. The Superior Court concluded:

It is important to articulate what this case is not about. It is not about a person seeking to ameliorate the anguish of someone coping with a terminal illness and questioning the value of life. Nor is it about a person offering support, comfort, and even assistance to a mature adult who, confronted with such circumstances, has decided to end his or her life. These situations are easily distinguishable from the present case, in which the grand jury heard evidence suggesting a systematic campaign of coercion on which the virtually present defendant embarked — captured and preserved through her text messages — that targeted the equivocating young victim’s insecurities and acted to subvert his willpower in favor of her own. On the specific facts of this case, there was sufficient evidence to support a probable cause finding that the defendant’s command to the victim in the final moments of his life to follow through on his suicide attempt was a direct, causal link to his death.

So now the case is remanded to the trial court where a pre-trial has been scheduled for July 29; no trial date has been set. When it finally does occur, the trial will likely focus on whether the text messages support the prosecution’s theory that Carter’s conduct [texting] was reckless to the point of causing a predictable loss of life.