Mass. ACLU: Carter conviction violates free speech protections

In this Aug. 24, 2015, file photo, Michelle Carter listens to her defense attorney argue for an involuntary manslaughter charge against her to be dismissed at Juvenile Court in New Bedford, Mass. (Peter Pereira/The New Bedford Standard Times via AP, Pool, File)

TAUNTON, Mass. (WPRI) — Michelle Carter on Friday was found guilty by a judge of involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to commit suicide.

Roy took his own life in June of 2014 by using a generator to fill his pickup truck with carbon monoxide in a Fairhaven parking lot.

Judge Lawrence Moniz said Carter, who was 17 at the time, knew what she was doing when she sent him text messages on numerous occasions urging him to go through with it.

After the verdict was announced Friday, the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a statement saying the conviction violates free speech protections and will have far-reaching ramifications.

“Mr. Roy’s death is a terrible tragedy, but it is not a reason to stretch the boundaries of our criminal laws or abandon the protections of our constitution.

“There is no law in Massachusetts making it a crime to encourage someone, or even to persuade someone, to commit suicide. Yet Ms. Carter has now been convicted of manslaughter, based on the prosecution’s theory that, as a 17-year-old girl, she literally killed Mr. Roy with her words. This conviction exceeds the limits of our criminal laws and violates free speech protections guaranteed by the Massachusetts and U.S. Constitutions.

“The implications of this conviction go far beyond the tragic circumstances of Mr. Roy’s death. If allowed to stand, Ms. Carter’s conviction could chill important and worthwhile end-of-life discussions between loved ones across the Commonwealth.”

Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel to the Massachusetts Bar Association, agreed that the outcome of the case could have widespread impacts but also affirmed the judge’s decision.

“The verdict represents the application of centuries old common law principles and the interplay with today’s wide spread use of communication through social media. The case will have national implications and is a clarion call that seemingly remote and distant communications will not insulate individuals from heinous acts that could rise to the level of criminal culpability.

“The defendant’s fate was sealed through the use of her own words. The communications illustrated a deeply troubled defendant whose actions rose to the level of wanton and reckless disregard for the life of the victim.”

Carter is scheduled to be sentenced in August and the judge allowed her to remain out on bail until then.

The Signs and How to get Help >>