You probably recall the hideous story of Michelle Carter and her friend(?) Conrad Roy III. Carter was convicted of manslaughter after Roy’s suicide in July of 2014. While she was fifty miles away in another part of the state at the time of Roy’s death, her series of text messages and phone calls urging him to end his life were deemed sufficient to cast her as causing his demise. She was later sentenced to fifteen months in jail and after losing all of her appeals in Massachusetts, she began serving her sentence this February.
Now, with only one last chance to clear her name, her attorneys have asked the Supreme Court to step in and vacate the judgment. (Washington Post)
Five years later, Carter, now 22, is seeking answers from the nation’s top court.
In a petition for Supreme Court review, filed on Monday, lawyers for the young woman are asking the justices to quash Carter’s conviction for involuntary manslaughter in the July 2014 death of Roy, who poisoned himself with carbon monoxide in a Kmart parking lot in Fairhaven, Mass., after exchanging text messages and speaking twice on the phone with Carter on that summer day. She lived about 50 miles away in Plainville, Mass.
Calling her conviction “unprecedented,” the petition points to decisions in other states invalidating findings of culpability in cases of assisted suicide and cyberstalking. It claims that Carter’s right to free speech under the First Amendment shields her from criminal responsibility because her involvement was limited to “words alone.”
Personally, I’d like to see Carter get one more shot at this, but the article quotes Eugene Volokh as saying it’s unlikely that the court will agree to hear it. His reasons, as usual, ring true. The Supreme Court mostly accepts cases where there are disputes between the lower courts and a clear need to resolve the question at hand exists. Michelle Carter has lost every time she’s stepped into a courtroom, so perhaps the court will see no reason to take it up.
I must confess, however, that I still hope they do. This case deserves a fresh set of eyes because the resolution represents a frightening precedent to set in our legal system. I do not say this out of any sympathy for or empathy with Michelle Carter because I have zero of either. To say the things she said and texted to someone who loved her and reportedly counted her as his only close, human relationship, particularly when he was clearly struggling with mental illness, was beyond detestable. This young woman is either severely mentally deranged or simply one of the worst human beings imaginable.
But as twisted, deranged or evil as she might be, it’s important to keep one thing in mind. Michelle Carter was fifty miles away when Conrad Roy died. And more to the point, Conrad Roy died at the hands of Conrad Roy. Even as he sat in his truck while it filled up with deadly carbon monoxide, he backed away. He got out of his truck, not once, but twice. No matter how far Roy had fallen into the pit of despair, somewhere inside of him the spark of his instinct for self-preservation still remained. But then he got back in the truck one last time.
I realize I have an unpopular take on this. I wrote about it extensively in 2017 so I won’t go through the entire process here yet again. But in the end, what Michelle Carter was guilty of was saying things. Speaking words. And if you don’t support the idea of thought crimes in the American criminal justice system, you shouldn’t support Carter’s conviction. Because if she can be sent to prison for saying words, the line has been blurred and more speech may be putting others in jail sooner or later.