Supreme Court Rejects Appeal in Suicide Texting Case

January 13, 2020 Updated: January 13, 2020
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The Supreme Court on Jan. 13 rejected an appeal (pdf) from a Massachusetts woman who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after she sent her boyfriend text messages urging him to kill himself.

Michelle Carter is serving a 15-month prison sentence after being convicted three years ago in the 2014 death of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, who committed suicide. She had received a 30-month prison term, half of it suspended, and five years of probation.

Her lawyers had asked the Supreme Court to take up her case and argued that her conviction three years ago violated her First Amendment rights. In February 2019, after an appeal, the highest court in Massachusetts upheld her conviction.

In July, when her petition was filed to the Supreme Court, her lawyers wanted the justices to determine “whether Carter’s conviction for involuntary manslaughter, based on words alone, violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”

“Carter neither provided Roy with the means of his death nor physically participated in his suicide,” her lawyers wrote (pdf). It was Roy who “secured the pump, placed it in his truck, drove alone to the parking lot, and filled the truck with carbon monoxide,” not Carter, they argued.

Michelle Carter awaits her sentencing
Michelle Carter awaits her sentencing in a courtroom in Taunton, Mass., on Aug. 3, 2017. (Matt West/The Boston Herald via AP)

“Conduct that would be plainly reckless for adults may seem completely reasonable to teenagers, particularly when that ‘conduct’ consists of online communications or social media posts,” her lawyers said in the court papers.

Following his death, investigators discovered Roy had sent text messages to Carter as he was contemplating and attempting to commit suicide. The investigators found that she had encouraged him to kill himself when he expressed doubts.

A trial judge noted that her failure to call 911 or ask for help were key motivators to support her conviction.

Prosecutors also claimed that Carter first tried to discourage Roy from suicide, but she then attempted to coerce him on a number of occasions. She also taunted him that he would fail to kill himself, saying, “just to do it” and that “the time [was] right.”

Carter’s case garnered national attention and prompted legislative proposals in Massachusetts to criminalize suicide coercion. It was the subject of the 2019 HBO documentary, “I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter.”

Suicide Hotlines

If you are in an emergency in the United States or Canada, please call 911. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255. Youth can call the Kids Help Phone on 1-800-668-6868.

In the United Kingdom, call Samaritans at 116 123, Papyrus at 0800 068 41 41, or Childline at 0800 1111.

In Australia, the suicide prevention hotline at Lifeline is 13 11 14. You can also visit the Lifeline website at lifeline.org.au. Youth can contact the Kids Helpline by phoning 1-800-551-800 or visiting headspace.org.au/yarn-safe

If you are in an emergency in India, call Befrienders India—National Association at +91 33 2474 4704.