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Commonwealth v. Carter
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
481 Mass. 352 (2019)
Seventeen-year-old Michelle Carter (defendant) was charged with involuntary manslaughter for encouraging 18-year-old Conrad Roy to commit suicide. The two met in 2012 and maintained a long-distance relationship through texting and phone calls, frequently discussing Roy’s mental health and suicidal thoughts. By mid-2014, Roy had attempted suicide several times but abandoned each attempt or sought rescue. Carter initially urged Roy to get help and to accompany her to a treatment center where she planned to go for an eating disorder, saying they could support each other. But Roy refused to go, and Carter began helping plan a suicide method and chastising Roy for his indecision and delay. Roy procured a gas-powered water pump and ran it in his truck while sitting inside. Carter and Roy were in contact by cell phone as the truck filled with carbon monoxide. Carter texted a friend that she could hear a motor running and hear moaning, but that Roy would not respond. Carter stayed on the phone for about 20 minutes, then texted that she thought Roy had just killed himself. Carter later texted the same friend that Roy had gotten scared when he felt the effects of the carbon monoxide and had gotten out of the truck, but that she had told him to get back in. The judge found that Roy had gotten out seeking fresh air, but that Carter had told him to get back in knowing the inside had become toxic and aware of his fragile mental state. The judge found Carter could hear the pump running and Roy coughing, but took no steps to save him. She did not call 911, Roy’s family, or tell him to get out of the truck. [Ed.’s note: The casebook excerpt omits the remaining facts and the trial court ruling. Carter had waived a jury, and the judge convicted. Carter appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence and the constitutionality of the involuntary-manslaughter statute as applied and claiming her statements to Roy were protected First Amendment speech.]
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Kafker, J.)
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