We’ve been following the case of Michelle Carter quite closely ever since the “worst girlfriend ever” cropped up in the news, particularly because of the implications it will have for free speech going forward. As you may recall, Carter was the young woman who goaded her “boyfriend” (or possibly just friend), Conrad Roy, into taking his own life via a series of text messages and phone calls encouraging him to “just do it.” Roy wound up asphyxiating himself inside of his running pickup truck.
Carter was later convicted of manslaughter despite the fact that she was located more than fifty miles away when Roy died. Her attorneys appealed the case, losing that effort at the state level and finally taking their case to the Supreme Court. Today the Supremes put the matter to an end by refusing to hear the appeal. (NBC News)
The Supreme Court said Monday it would not take up an appeal brought by Michelle Carter, the young woman who encouraged her boyfriend, through texts and phone calls, to kill himself.
The court’s refusal to take the case leaves her conviction intact…
The court declined to decide whether her involuntary manslaughter conviction violated the First Amendment guarantee of free speech because it was based solely on words that she texted or spoke. She was sentenced to 15 months in jail.
I’m not even going to pretend to understand what the justices were thinking when they refused to even hear this case. If there was ever a situation affecting free speech that cried out for a full and fair hearing at the highest level it should have been this one. As I wrote at the conclusion of her first trial, this still appears to be a total miscarriage of justice
Though I’ve pointed this out before, it bears repeating. I do not make this argument out of some belief that Michelle Carter is somehow completely innocent or deserving of sympathy. She’s obviously a horrible human being and not someone any sane person should want to be around. The things she said in those text messages paint the picture of a sociopathic monster without a drop of the milk of human kindness inside of her.
But there are (sadly) lots of terrible people in this world and the fact remains that Michelle Carter was sent to prison for fifteen months for saying things. She did not kill Conrad Roy herself nor did she even physically assist him in his suicide. Roy made that choice himself, even getting out of the truck at one point when he clearly was having second thoughts before Carter convinced him to get back in.
If there were some special laws about emotional abuse of the mentally ill (which Roy clearly seemed to be) then perhaps we could understand a conviction for something like that. But even that would be rather dodgy. And Carter was sent up for manslaughter. If she can be sent to prison for saying things, what other things might you or anyone else say that could land you behind bars?
Carter is due to be released from prison next month, but that’s not the end of this story. We learned more recently of a second contender for the title of Worst Girlfriend Ever. Inyoung You, a South Korean college student in Boston, convinced her boyfriend Alexander Urtula to jump to his death from the top of a parking garage. You can bet that You’s attorneys were watching the Carter case closely. She pleaded not guilty in November, but with Carter’s case in the books as precedent, they may want to consider taking a deal if one is on the table.