The Massachusetts teen who was convicted in 2017 of involuntary manslaughter after encouraging her boyfriend with text messages and phone calls to commit suicide on Monday asked the Supreme Court to review her case and vacate her conviction.
Lawyers for Michelle Carter, who began serving her 15-month prison sentence in February, argued in a petition to the Supreme Court that her conviction for urging 18-year-old Conrad Roy to commit suicide was “unprecedented” and a violation of her First Amendment right to free speech and Fifth Amendment right to due process.
“Michelle Carter did not cause Conrad Roy’s tragic death and should not be held criminally responsible for his suicide,” her attorney Daniel Marx said in a statement.
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Marx argues in the petition that a conviction on “her words alone” violate her First Amendment rights and that her case violated due process because “the vague common law of involuntary manslaughter fails to provide guidance to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement in morally fraught cases involving suicide.”
“Before this case, no state had interpreted its common law or enacted an assisted suicide statute to criminalize such ‘pure speech,’ and no other defendant had been convicted for encouraging another person to take his own life where the defendant neither provided the actual means of death nor physically participated in the suicide,” the petition said.
In February, the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts refused to overturn Carter’s conviction, arguing that the evidence against her proved her conduct caused Roy’s death. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will have to decide whether or not to review that decision.
Michelle Carter and free speech
Due process has emerged as a rare point of bipartisan consensus. But debate about the limitations of free expression have in recent years become central to the partisan culture wars. Conservatives have raised the alarm about growing progressive intolerance of views that contradict woke orthodoxy, starting on college campuses.
They point to polls showing relatively low support for free speech — along with democracy in general — among young people and to aggressive student activism to silence conservative voices. In the “real world,” social media platforms have cracked down on “hate speech” and employers have silenced views deemed offensive.
Liberals, though, often downplay the extent and the significance of campus censorship and defend the right of private companies to uphold standards of decency.
Double standard for female criminals?
However, not everyone – notably including the Massachusetts courts – see Carter’s case as an issue of due process or free speech. Her behavior and relatively light sentence could alternatively be seen in light of the gender wars.
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Statistically speaking, women tend to get off relatively easy for committing the same crimes as men. Some contend that they deserve greater leniency because they are more likely to be low-level criminals, coerced into crime by men and traumatized by physical or sexual abuse. They also need to be free to raise their children, the argument goes.
But others point out that men face no shortage of their own hardships, and they have children to raise, too. More broadly, there is a growing sense in some quarters that men are being vilified, and held to a higher standard than women, in the #MeToo era.
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