Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Words can Kill

Words are quite powerful and they can have detrimental consequences in a courtroom, at least in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge has found a Massachusetts woman guilty of involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend via text messaging to commit suicide. The woman, Michelle Carter, was sentenced to 15 months in jail for coercing her boyfriend, Conrad Ray, to kill himself. She could have received up to 20 years in prison, but the judge showed leniency. She will be on probation for five years.

Carter does not have to be on probation until all of her appeals have been exhausted. Moreover, she will continue on her pretrial release until a decision at the appellate level is made. However, if her appeals fail, she will be ordered to serve her jail sentence and probation. Is this too easy and lenient for the crime or did she, in fact, commit a crime at all? These are the questions that are swirling around legal conversations of criminal defense attorneys and legal experts about the verdict and sentence.

The prosecution in this case based their theory on the fact that words can kill. Carter literally killed her boyfriend with her own words. Some legal experts say the notion that words can kill is quite debatable and controversial since criminal law usually punishes actions, not words. Others feel the conviction goes beyond the boundaries of criminal law and violates an individual's freedom of speech that is not only protected by the Massachusetts Constitution but also the U.S. Constitution.

This verdict can set a new legal precedent by which one's words, and just not their actions can cause death or murder. Does Massachusetts need to create a specific law that criminalizes those who urge or coerce others to commit suicide?

At present, there are no laws in the Commonwealth that make it a crime to encourage or persuade another person to commit suicide. This is why some legal experts say there should not have been a sentencing or charge against Carter in this particular case.

The defense had claimed the defendant was not in a healthy mental state at the time she persuaded her boyfriend to commit suicide. They said she was a troubled teen with a history of depression and was being treated with Celexa that may have side effects that include irrational thinking and behavior. Perhaps their defenses made the judge more lenient in his final decision regarding the fate of Michelle Carter.

Whenever you are facing a criminal offense, you need to find a criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights and create defenses to lessen the charges against you. Contact a criminal defense attorney who can develop a strategy that will help your case. Boston Criminal Defense Attorney,Edward Molari can provide you with legal advice that may help reduce the punishment or lessen the charge. He cares about your situation and provides personalized legal services in every case.  Contact Attorney Edward Molari at 617-942-1532 for a free consultation.