Well, the Michelle Carter case is back in the news again. She was the teenager who through texts and phone calls urged her boyfriend to commit suicide, which he did. Carter had told a friend two weeks later that she even told Conrad Roy to get back into his truck after he had second thoughts while the truck was apparently full of carbon monoxide. That subsequent text to her friend was the main item of evidence against her.
She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter by a judge, and now the Massachusetts state Supreme Court has upheld the conviction.
I am sure that Carter’s words and bullying may have influenced the boy’s final decision to do himself in, but she was not there, only on the phone with him. With the state Court’s ruling, this is another case in which an individual is not responsible for his own decisions and actions.
Carter’s attorney has stated that they will take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which hardly has a good record on freedom of speech issues.
The Massachusetts Court stated, according to Reason, “No constitutional violation results from convicting a defendant of involuntary manslaughter for reckless and wanton, pressuring text messages and phone calls, preying upon well-known weaknesses, fears, anxieties and promises, that finally overcame the willpower to live of a mentally ill, vulnerable, young person, thereby coercing him to commit suicide.”
“…preying upon well-known weaknesses, fears, anxieties and promises…”?
But isn’t that what politicians do all the time? Such as Elizabeth Warren in her Presidential campaign announcement, appealing to the ignorant, covetous masses? Or Donald Trump with his fascist wall, appealing to simple-minded tribalists?
Psychiatrist Dr. Peter Breggin had testified at Carter’s trial and considered Carter and Roy “victims of psychiatry,” because the two of them had both been taking prescription psychiatric drugs for years. But that does not excuse anything.
Dr. Breggin points out that there is no actual evidence, recording or texts, indicating that Carter actually told Roy to get back in the truck. The only evidence regarding such an assertion that exists is Carter’s texting to a friend two months after Roy’s death that she told him to get back in the truck. But what if she was mistaken in her memory of that ordeal?
To highlight the prosecutor and judge’s zeal and inconsistency, Dr. Breggin wrote, “The DA takes Michelle’s self-destructive statement texted in despair to a friend two months after Conrad’s death as a truth so certain it is sufficient to charge and convict her of killing Conrad. This is ironic. Throughout the trial, the DA repeatedly described Michelle as a liar, a faker, a manipulator, an exaggerator, a dramatizer, a schemer, and someone whose declarations could never be trusted. The DA considered Michelle an outright liar who was wholly unreliable except on this one quote that served the DA’s driving need for a conviction.”
Dr. Breggin has a series of articles related to the Michelle Carter case.
Anyway, it was Conrad Roy’s ultimate decision based on his own free will to kill himself. That’s my view on this. Michelle Carter may have been a mean b*tch, but she was not responsible for Roy’s death.
So unless the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s decision, the decision can be used to suggest that someone’s “meanness,” verbal bullying, “exploiting another’s vulnerability,” and so on, can be made criminally responsible for the suicidal death of another. But will other forms of speech then be made to be responsible? Such as a “mean rant” in blog that depressed someone? Or even a bitter, vindictive political speech such as by Elizabeth Warren?
Here is what Murray Rothbard had to say about a similar situation of people urging others to do something very bad or criminal, the idea of “incitement to riot”:
Should it be illegal, we may next inquire, to “incite to riot”? Suppose that Green exhorts a crowd: “Go! Burn! Loot! Kill!” and the mob proceeds to do just that, with Green having nothing further to do with these criminal activities. Since every man is free to adopt or not adopt any course of action he wishes, we cannot say that in some way Green determined the members of the mob to their criminal activities; we cannot make him, because of his exhortation, at all responsible for their crimes. “Inciting to riot,” therefore, is a pure exercise of a man’s right to speak without being thereby implicated in crime.
On the other hand, it is obvious that if Green happened to be involved in a plan or conspiracy with others to commit various crimes, and that then Green told them to proceed, he would then be just as implicated in the crimes as are the others — more so, if he were the mastermind who headed the criminal gang. This is a seemingly subtle distinction which in practice is clearcut — there is a world of difference between the head of a criminal gang and a soap-box orator during a riot; the former is not, properly to be charged simply with “incitement.”