WWN28# – Is this justice? Michelle Carter receives verdict in texting suicide case

What’s Been Happening? Conrad and Michelle

In June 2014, 18 year old Conrad Roy III started sharing suicidal thoughts with Michelle Carter over text messages. Carter initially urges Roy to seek medical help and discourages him from harming himself. Later on, she changes tone and successfully convinces Roy to commit suicide. Roy was found dead near a compression pump that had filled a pick-up truck with carbon monoxide. His death was initially deemed a suicide but police have subsequently charged Carter with involuntary manslaughter after investigating text messages that were sent between Carter and Roy. In one exchange, Carter had told him to stay in the vehicle from 30 miles away after Roy exited the vehicle because the carbon monoxide was “working and he got scared”.

On June 16 2017, Massachusetts judge Lawrence Moniz found Carter to be guilty of Roy’s death and announced that she could face up to 20 years of prison time.

What Now?

Moniz has sentenced Michelle Carter to a 2.5 year term but has said that only 15 months is mandatory. He also sentenced her to five years of probation. If she violates the terms of her five year probation, she will have to serve her full sentence in jail.

Terms of Five Year Probation

  • No contact with Roy’s family and classmates who acted as witnesses for the prosecution
  • Cannot leave the state of Massachusetts
  • Must submit a DNA sample
  • Must have a mental health evaluation
  • Banned from using social media

Carter’s lawyer, Joseph Cataldo successfully petitioned to have her sentence stayed which means that she will not go to jail yet until all of her state appeals are exhausted and denied. Cataldo has asked the judge to spare his client from going to prison at all and require her to receive mental counselling while in probation instead.

Following the sentencing, the prosecutor Assistant District Attorney Maryclare Flynn said that he was disappointed the judge chose to stay the sentence. He had recommended a sentence of 7 to 12 years for Carter who he said has not shown remorse or accepted responsibility for her actions.

What’s Next?

It was certainly unexpected. A 2.5 years sentence is a much shorter sentence than the potential 20. In addition, Carter is appealing the sentence so it could result in only probation time and no time in jail at all. Regarding the sentencing, it is possible that the judge was trying to rehabilitate and not punish and relied on the fact that she was aged 17 when the crime was committed and tried a juvenile court.

The case has drawn a lot of attention to the issue of whether “words encouraging suicide” is a criminal act. In the U.S, criminal law typically punishes physical action and this case could set a new legal precedent in which words and not just actions are deemed to cause death. At this stage, it is unlikely to be used as precedent but the verdict indicates a shift in legal landscape where it may ultimately lead to changes in the way we communicate with others (some say in a more careful manner and with limited freedom).

Postponing the case is also not in the best interests of anyone involved. It offers no peace to Roy’s family and shows a refusal by Carter and her parents to accept responsibility for her actions. The appeal process is likely to drag on for a while and there is no doubt that Carter’s lawyer will surely try to stretch out the process. While some may say that Michelle needs our sympathy and help, I say that she needs to take ownership and accept the consequences of her actions as well.

References:
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3741960/michelle-carter-guilty-encouraging-conrad-roy-boyfriend-suicide/
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-carter-was-wrongfully-convicted-texting-suicide-case-amanda-knox-n789541
http://edition.cnn.com/2017/06/08/us/text-message-suicide-michelle-carter-conrad-roy/index.html
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/michelle-carter-convicted-texting-suicide-case-sentenced-15-months-jail-n789276
https://qz.com/1009681/a-new-legal-precedent-means-americans-can-go-to-jail-for-what-they-say/
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