Michelle Carter is a Massachusetts woman who was convicted in 2017 of involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, over text messages and phone calls to kill himself. She was 17 when this began some years before and he was 18. Over a two-year period they exchanged thousands of text messages. They barely interacted in person. They led separate lives filled with difficulties in separate Massachusetts towns. But they developed an intense online bond after meeting in Naples, Fla., in 2012, when each was visiting relatives. They traded online stories of their anguish, and Carter recommended that Roy seek treatment for the depression that he said he had. Soon, however, she began suggesting ways for her boyfriend to die by suicide, which he had previously attempted.
“Drink bleach. Why don’t you just drink bleach?” she asked in messages recovered by investigators from Roy’s phone. “Hang yourself. Jump over a building, stab yourself, idk. There’s a lot of ways.”
The day before he was found lifeless in his truck, she had pressed him to follow through on his plans.
“If you want it as bad as you say you do, its time to do it today,” she said in a text message the day before his death. “I love you,” she told him repeatedly, and he returned the words.
As his truck filled with fumes and he stepped outside, apparently having second thoughts, she instructed him to return to the vehicle, according to the juvenile court judge who convicted her of involuntary manslaughter in a nonjury trial in 2017. The judge, Lawrence Moniz, reasoned that her “virtual presence” made her responsible for her boyfriend’s death. He later handed her a 15-month jail term.
Her conviction was upheld in February, 2019, by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which said it “rejected the defendant’s claim that her words to the victim, without any physical act on her part and even without her physical presence at the scene, could not constitute wanton or reckless conduct sufficient to support a charge of manslaughter.”
Carter began serving her sentence following the verdict from the state’s highest court. But in a petition filed in July 2019, Carter’s lawyers argued that her conviction for urging 18-year-old Conrad Roy to kill himself was “unprecedented” and violated her First Amendment right to free speech.” Her lawyers asked the US Supreme Court to review her case and overturn her conviction, but the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Rights can be limited, for instance, if they cause harm to others. You have a right to free speech, but not to tell malicious lies that destroy another person’s reputation. You could plead the First Amendment if you did that. But it wouldn’t get you very far. You’d be found guilty of slander and ordered to pay for the damage you caused to the person’s reputation.”
So should her words to her boyfriend be considered protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution?
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