Lawyers Cite Free Speech In Appeal Of Woman Who Encouraged Her Boyfriend To Kill Himself

Grace Carr | Reporter

A young woman who was sentenced to jail for encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself now has her attorneys arguing that she should not have to serve prison time because she is protected under the statutes of free speech.

“Because the judge convicted Carter for what she said, or failed to say, not what she did, this case implicates free speech under the 1st Amendment,” Michelle Carter’s attorneys wrote in their July 29 brief.

The appeal comes after a Massachusetts judge gave Carter 15 months of jail time in August 2017 for involuntary manslaughter after her boyfriend committed suicide at her urging. Judge Lawrence Moniz ruled that Carter’s texts to her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, urging him to kill himself ultimately caused him to do it. Roy was found in his pickup truck, dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in July 2014.

Joseph Cataldo, Carter’s lead attorney, contends that Carter should be protected under the guard of free speech protections.
“Massachusetts common law has never said that words alone without physical presence has been sufficient to constitute a homicide — not until this case,” he said, according to The Washington Post. He also maintains that there is no state statute making it illegal to encourage suicide.

Others posit that free speech protections don’t apply to Carter because her continued texts to her boyfriend urging him to kill himself constitute an incitement to violence.

“A speaker is not protected by the First Amendment if her speech is intended to incite or produce imminent unlawful action and if such unlawful action is substantially likely to occur,” Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project director Clay Calvert said in an email, WaPo reported. (RELATED: Michelle Carter Sentenced To 15 Months Of Prison After Urging Her Boyfriend To Kill Himself)

The appeal comes after Roy’s mother sued Carter for $4.2 million for “negligence and wanton and reckless conduct,” court records show.

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