Massachusetts text message suicide case could set free-speech precedent
EL PASO, Texas —
The case of a Massachusetts woman who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the death of her boyfriend could have widespread legal and free-speech consequences.
Conrad Roy took his own life in 2014 after exchanging dozens of text messages with his then-girlfriend in which she encouraged Roy to kill himself.
Michelle Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in June. On Thursday, Carter was sentenced to 15 months in a Massachusetts jail.
Massachusetts is one of nine states that does not have any specific laws prohibiting someone from encouraging or assisting in a person’s suicide.
Texas and New Mexico both consider the act a felony.
“A person commits an offense if, with intent to promote or assist the commission of suicide by another, he aids or attempts to aid the other to commit or attempt to commit suicide,” the Texas Penal Code reads.
“Assisting suicide consists of deliberately aiding another in the taking of his own life. Whoever commits assisting suicide is guilty of a fourth degree felony,” New Mexico law states.
However, the case brings up legal and ethical questions about whether words are enough to be considered assisting someone’s suicide.
“It's free speech, but in a way it can damage somebody,” said University of Texas at El Paso student Roberto Jaquez.
Around the Borderland, people KFOX14 spoke with say free speech is a right that should be protected.
“I think free speech is alright, but you should use it more wisely and not just abuse it,” another UTEP student, named George, said.
“Yes, there's free speech but there's also the moral of being right or wrong and that's wrong,” said UTEP student Miguel Corral.
Most of the people said that the line is blurry between what constitutes free speech and what speech should not be protected.
“It's a really hard question that we are all tying to answer right now,” said UTEP student Melanie Walker. “The line of what the Constitution covers is getting very vague and so you really don't know anymore.”
“Eventually it becomes a crime. When you actually make someone lose their life then yeah, that's where I draw the line,” George said.
Many said Carter deserves to face consequences for her words.
“I think she needs to be punished,” Jaquez said.
“I think it's a tough question but I think there should be some consequences,” UTEP student Enoc Bordier said.
Carter will remain out of jail pending an appeal. As part of the terms of her sentence, Carter cannot profit financially from telling her story in the form of an interview, book, movie, television series etc.