In The News: Text Messages Could Lead to Manslaughter
This case doesn’t come out of Missouri, but it’s such an interesting case, I’d be remissed if I didn’t mention it in our In The News section because frankly, it’s big news!
This is a case out of Taunton, Massachusetts where Michelle Carter was accused and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for sending text messages to a friend, whom committed suicide based on the text messages Ms. Carter sent him. Ms. Carter will be sentenced August 3, 2017 and now faces up to 20 years in prison. 20 years in prison for sending a text message! Are the charges and the potential sentence too much? Let’s dig deeper and see what actually happened.
During 2012 to 2014, Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy III were boyfriend and girlfriend and, of course, texting each other back and forth throughout the time they were dating. In July of 2014, Conrad, committed suicide by filing his pickup truck with carbon monoxide and inhaling until he passed out and ultimately died.
Conrad’s death is a tragedy and is absolutely terrible. But, the State of Massachusetts filed charges against Michelle based upon the text messages she sent to Conrad and convinced Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz was guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Those text messages were published to the Court and Michelle goes from trying to help Conrad and discourage him from committing suicide to Googling ways for him to kill himself and egging him on.
July 7, 2014
Conrad: “If you were in my position honestly what would you do?”
Michelle: “I would get help. That’s just me tho. When I have a serious problem like that my first instinct is to get help because I know I can’t do it on my own”
Seems like a great answer right?! Well, later in that same day, Michelle follows up Conrad’s question with:
Michelle: “Well there’s more way to make CO. Google ways to make it. . .”
Conrad: “Portable generator that’s it”
I feel like there is definitely more to this conversation, but, so far, this is all I’ve been able to find that was made public with the Court.
July 8, 2014
Michelle: “So are you sure you don’t wanna [kill yourself] tonight?”
Conrad: “What do you mean am I sure?”
Michelle: “Like, are you definitely not doing it tonight?”
Conrad: “Idk yet I’ll let you know”
Michelle: “Because I’ll stay up with you if you wanna do it tonight”
Conrad: “Another day wouldn’t hurt”
Michelle: “You can’t keep pushing it off, tho, that’s all you keep doing”
This is such a weird conversation between two people, especially if these two people are dating! On July 11, 2014, Michelle and Conrad discuss using a generator or a water pump to get the carbon monoxide in the truck and she gives her opinion to Conrad to use a generator “because I don’t know much about the pump and with a generator you can’t fail.”
The messages go on and on like this for days. Very strange and not a lot of context to back up what is being said. On July 12, 2014, Conrad seems to not want to commit suicide and it does seem like Michelle is trying to persuade Conrad to go through with it.
So, is she guilty of involuntary manslaughter? Did the Judge get it right? Let’s look at it under Missouri law and see what involuntary manslaughter consists of:
First Degree: A person commits the offense of involuntary manslaughter in the first degree if he or she recklessly causes the death of another person. The offense of involuntary manslaughter in the first degree is a class C felony (3-10 years in prison).
Second Degree: A person commits the offense of involuntary manslaughter in the second degree if he or she acts with criminal negligence to cause the death of any person. The offense of involuntary manslaughter in the second degree is a class E felony (up to 4 years in prison).
Is Michelle guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the State of Missouri? Based upon just sending text messages, I’m honestly not sure she is guilty under Missouri Law; but that may just be the defense attorney in me coming out. Now, we’ve all seen instances of online bullying leading to suicide and, in those cases, the bully in purposefully attempting to hurt the individual. This is a tough case, so you make the judgment.
First, involuntary manslaughter in the first degree requires “recklessly” causes the death of another. What is recklessly according to the law? Recklessly goes beyond mere negligence and the conduct must demonstrate an indifference to consequences under circumstances involving peril to the life or safety of others; although no harm is intended.
Michelle made Conrad promise to kill himself on July 12, 2014; “you can’t break a promise.” She helped him decide how he was going to commit suicide. But you’ll also see Michelle telling Conrad, “you just need to do it Conrad or I’m gonna get you help.” She seems to almost flip flop back and forth from helping to aiding. Is this enough to convict a person for recklessly causing the death of another person? I’m not sure, I’m not entirely convinced.
Second, involuntary manslaughter in the second degree requires criminal negligence causing the death of another person. Criminal negligence is recklessly acting without reasonable caution and putting another person at risk of injury or death or failing to do something with the same consequences. With negligence, there also has to be a duty owed to the person injured.
Conrad expressed multiple times that he was to kill himself. Michelle owed no duty to Conrad to go get him help. And texting Conrad, discussing how to commit suicide, doesn’t seem like enough to be convicted on involuntary manslaughter in the second degree in Missouri.
How does Massachusetts law change our analysis? Well, Massachusetts does not define “involuntary manslaughter.” Instead, under common law, previous courts have established involuntary manslaughter in Massachusetts is:
(1) an unintentional killing occasioned by an act which constitutes such a disregard of the probable harmful consequences to another as to be wanton or reckless; or
(2) an unintentional killing resulting from a battery.
Under this analysis, Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz was convinced after reading all the text messages that Michelle’s actions constituted such a disregard for the probability of Conrad harming himself and her text messages were wanton or reckless. The legal definition of wanton is grossly careless or malicious.
This is a terrible situation and my heart goes out to Conrad’s family, but I can also see where this can now open the door to so many more prosecutions of individuals sending text messages during a fight or a heated conversation.
About The Author
Evan M. Howard is the managing attorney for Howard Law, a St. Louis business law and criminal defense law firm based in Clayton, Missouri. Howard Law is focused on giving honest, quick and effective representation to all its clients. With a background in business and experience dealing with tough criminal cases, Howard Law is ready to help guide you through your legal matter. Contact Howard Law at (314) 325-9868 for immediately assistance.
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