Every now and then, there is a case that arrives which provides a truly challenging prospect to justice. This is one of them. Michelle Carter, the at-the-time 17 year old girlfriend to deceased Conrad Roy III, was convicted a few weeks ago of involuntary manslaughter for apparently texting her boyfriend repeatedly before his suicide to go through with it. She now faces a possible 20 year sentence in prison (http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/16/us/michelle-carter-texting-case/index.html). Many have called for the head of this woman, but what are the ramifications of this case? As the conviction rested heavily on the words, and not necessarily the agency of the individuals involved, there is reason to be concerned that the precedent of this case could be a threat to our liberties, namely our freedom of speech.
First of all, for all that was made regarding Ms. Carter’s apparent encouragement of Mr. Roy’s suicide, there is no law in Massachusetts that criminalizes such an activity. Also, contrary to the image portrayed during the trial that Carter’s words were the sole cause of her boyfriend’s death, it was demonstrated that Roy indeed had agency in the event…as he was deciding to not go through with the suicide at first before eventually doing so. Therefore, exactly where Carter’s insinuations through texts end and where Roy’s agency began is hard to truthfully pin-point. After all, words by themselves are simply abstractions, and there is no evidence that Carter had actively worked out a plan to kill her boyfriend or was enacting force on him (she wasn’t there with Roy when he killed himself). Unless we are able to read minds in all this, we could just as easily be looking at a stubborn, vindictive teenager (apparently she struggled with depression episodes like her boyfriend, and also had eating disorders) or a conniving one. Where are we to draw the line? It is also interesting that the prosecution didn’t aim for conspiracy charges or an accessory before the fact, which are probably closer to the circumstances involved than what was argued. Unlike where it can be clearly demonstrated that a mob boss ordered a hit, a cult leader encouraged his disciples to kill, or someone clearly incited violence through deeds…that isn’t so clear cut here. Carter wasn’t at the scene of the tragedy, so whether she knew what was going on…or was reacting in an exasperated way to a boyfriend that has had depressive episodes before (I’m not saying that such a thing is okay, just that people aren’t as upstanding at times as we would like them to be…but being insensitive isn’t something we throw people in prison for…if that were the case, they would fill up rather quickly) is up for debate.
Therefore, a messy verdict such as this should be thrown out. A real threat from something like this being left intact is that it will be used as precedent to go after those who provide “questionable” or insensitive texts or speech in painful situations. Is that really a road we are willing to go down, and what unintended consequences will arise from it? Best to disengage.
In other cases this week, Dalia Dippolito was found guilty of allegedly hiring someone to kill her husband. This is after two times where the case had either a conviction thrown out or ended in a mistrial. Such a circumstance raises the topic of such legal snafus concerning mistrials and how they are responded to, and whether it violates the ban on defendants suffering double jeopardy. At what point does a prosecution being given multiple times to try someone with the same charges undercut justice? Bill Cosby also had his first case end in a mistrial this week, and the prosecution is looking to run right into the quagmire again. Perhaps it is time to provide a limit to such standards. Indeed putting together a case is a tough gambit, but that makes it even more important to hold the state to a high level when conducting their jobs on such matters. http://wsvn.com/news/local/jury-finds-dalia-dippolito-guilty-of-trying-to-have-husband-murdered/; http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/bill-cosby-scandal/hung-jury-bill-cosby-sexual-assault-trial-ends-mistrial-n772106