Suicide is generally a deeply personal choice resulting from a number of problems in the victim’s life, but what happens when one person pushes someone who might not have otherwise killed themselves into the act? Can they be considered legally liable for another person’s suicide? Can you go to jail for making someone kill themselves? These are some of the many questions that arose in the famous involuntary manslaughter case against Michelle Carter, who bullied her boyfriend into taking his own life.
The Girl Who Drove Her Boyfriend to Commit Suicide
While no one doubts that Carter’s boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, killed himself, many people felt she was responsible. Manslaughter charges are usually reserved for accidents or negligence that ignore the possible risk to other person’s lives and eventually result in death, but Carter (who was being charged as a juvenile since she was 17 at the time of the crime) was accused of pushing Roy to kill himself via text message while she was over 30 miles away. Her actions weren’t accidental or negligent, but she certainly wasn’t directly involved with the suicide either —so could she still be considered legally liable?
A Confession Via Text?
Carter technically confessed her guilt to a friend via text, writing, “his death was my fault. Like, honestly, I could have stopped it. I was the one on the phone with him. and he got out of the car because he was working, and he got scared and I (expletive) told him to get back in… If they read my messages, I’m done. His family will hate me, and I could go to jail.” At very least, the text proves the girl knew what she was doing was legally questionable and held herself responsible, but feeling guilty about something doesn’t necessarily mean you belong in jail.
What About Free Speech?
Carter’s attorney argued, “even if she were reckless, the evidence will show that she didn’t cause his death.” But that wasn’t the only issue at play in this case. Also in question was whether her texts should be protected as free speech under the First Amendment. In a technological world where people frequently post comments on social media profiles of friends, schoolmates, and even strangers urging them to “just kill yourself already,” her conviction would set a serious precedent for anyone who says cruel things to someone who later goes on to kill themselves.
So Can You go to Jail for Making Someone Kill Themself?
In the end, Michelle Carter did. The Juvenile Court judge convicted her of involuntary manslaughter, finding her reckless conduct did cause the suicide. The judge explained that Carter set the suicide in motion and failed to take steps to stop it.
Her legal team requested the judge stay the sentence so they could appeal it. A year and a half later, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court agreed with the lower court’s ruling. Carter had to serve a 15-month prison sentence and 15 months on probation.
While this case took place in Massachusetts, it remains the strongest legal precedent for this specific situation. Since California’s manslaughter laws are not significantly different from Massachusetts, it’s a good bet that a similar case would have the same outcome here.
If you have any questions about involuntary manslaughter charges and what may or may not fit the definition of this specific crime, please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation with juvenile crimes attorney Peter M. Liss.