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Michelle Carter Asks SCOTUS to Overturn Her Conviction for Encouraging Boyfriend’s Suicide


Michelle Carter just made good on her promise to take her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last February, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed Carter’s involuntary manslaughter conviction and 15-month prison sentence for the death of her boyfriend. Carter’s attorneys apparently have another appeal at the ready, this one arguing that Carter had a First Amendment right to free speech and that her conviction should be vacated.

Monday, in a petition to SCOTUS for certiorari, Carter argued that her conviction violated both the First and Fifth Amendments. In 2014, then-17-year-old Michelle Carter was 50 miles away when her then-18-year-old boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, took his own life by intentionally filling his truck cabin with carbon monoxide. The case made national news when it surfaced that Carter had encouraged Roy to kill himself in a series of text messages.

The prosecution did, indeed, use texts as evidence that Carter encouraged Roy to take his own life. They said the two sent more than 1,000 texts in the week before Roy’s suicide. Among those texts were “You just have to do it” and “It’s painless and quick.”

Other texts like these also made national news:

“Well, I guess [that I am frustrated] just because you always say you are gonna do it but you don’t, but last night I know you really wanted to do it and I’m not mad.”

“Well, I mean, kind of, I guess, just because you always say you’re gonna do it… but you don’t but last night I knew you really wanted to and I’m not mad.”

“You’re not joking about this or bullshitting me, right? I just want to make sure you’re being serious. Like I know you are, but I don’t know. You always say you’re gonna do it, but you never do. I just want to make sure tonight is the real thing.”

“Conrad. I told you I’ll take care of [your family. Everyone will take care of them to make sure they won’t be alone and people will help them get thru it. We talked about this, they will be okay and accept it. People who commit suicide don’t think this much and they just do it.”

Carter’s arguments present complex legal issues to the Supreme Court. On the First Amendment claim, Carter argues that although her communications may have caused Roy’s suicide, they did not constitute speech that was “an integral part of conduct in violation of a valid criminal statute.”  Because words alone are rarely a basis for a criminal conviction, she claims, SCOTUS must intervene to correct this injustice. On the related Fifth Amendment claim, Carter argues that using the law to support manslaughter conviction based on text messages will lead to arbitrary and discriminatory criminal prosecution in suicide cases.

Carter’s case, involving two teenagers, a highly unusual set of facts, and a tragic death, may well pique the Supreme Court’s interest. Still, Carter faces an uphill battle; SCOTUS is usually loathe to second-guess factual findings at the state level. In Carter’s appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the court ruled that the trial evidence against her constituted “wanton and reckless conduct” that caused Roy’s death.

[Image via NBC News screengrab]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos