Salem Defense Lawyer: Should Urging Someone To Commit Suicide Be a Crime?

Back in 2017, the world’s attention was on the case of then 17-year-old Michelle Carter, who encouraged her boyfriend, 18-year-old Conrad Roy, to commit suicide via text. Known colloquially as the “texting suicide case,” it brought to light the fact that Massachusetts state law wasn’t fully equipped to handle such cases, and raised questions about of misuse of the law. 

The court heard that Carter was in communication with Roy as he carried out his suicidal plan: using a generator to fill his car with carbon monoxide fumes. She even urged him to get back in when he got scared and considered quitting. But as morally reprehensible as her actions were, her criminal defense lawyers argued that they technically weren’t illegal.

If you are being charged with causing someone’s suicide by way of encouragement, feel free to contact the Law Offices of Paul R. Moraski. One of our criminal defense lawyers will guide you through what’s sure to be a stressful trial.

What Does the Law Say?

At the moment, Massachusetts is one of the eight states that have not criminalized the coercion of suicide. In Carter’s case, prosecutors stretched existing Massachusetts homicide statutes to cover suicide coercion.

Her case is strikingly similar to Inyoung You’s, a former Boston College student who, via a barrage of text messages, is said to have led to 22-year-old Alexander Urtula’s suicide.

You sent Urtula a series of disturbing text messages two months before his suicide, tracked his location through his cellphone on the fateful day, and watched him jump to his death from the roof of a Roxbury parking garage. And just like Carter’s case, prosecutors may stretch Massachusetts homicide statutes to convict You of involuntary manslaughter.

According to Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, You had “complete and total control” over Urtula’s psychological and emotional states, and her “unrelenting abuse” overwhelmed his will to live.

So the question remains—should verbal suicide coercion be considered a crime in Massachusetts? And should it be treated and prosecuted as such? Opinion on these questions is divided at the moment.

Carter’s criminal defense lawyers argued that the conviction infringed on her right to free speech. You could also argue that prosecutors overstepped the bounds of the law by treating actions that technically weren’t manslaughter as if they were.

In both cases, the defendants did not have any physical involvement in the deaths, but prosecutors argued that Carter “literally killed Roy with her words” and that You pushed him off the building, not physically, but psychologically.

Critics, such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), stated that the conviction was in stark contrast to the First Amendment and the free speech it protects. A statement from the Legal Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts acknowledged that although Roy’s death was a tragedy, it was not a reason to stretch the boundary of criminal law or abandon the protections of the Constitution.

“If allowed to stand, Ms. Carter’s conviction could chill important and worthwhile end of life discussions between loved ones across the Commonwealth.”

Conrad’s Law

State Senator Barry Finegold and State Representative Natalie Higgins introduced a bill called Conrad’s Law after Conrad Roy that would define coerced suicide as a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. If the bill is passed, then anyone who knows that another individual has a “propensity for suicidal ideation” and “intentionally coerces or encourages that person to commit or attempt to commit suicide” will be charged under the law.

“Providing the physical means or knowledge of such means” will also be criminalized. In a statement, Conrad Roy’s mother said that the law was to prevent what happened to her son from happening to others struggling with mental illness and suicidal ideation.

“If this law is successful in saving one life, then all of this work will clearly be worth it.”

Consult a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney

Have you been accused of causing suicide through coercion some form of encouragement? While still a complicated matter, (at least until Conrad’s law is passed), the smart thing to do would be to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Do not hesitate to call the Law Offices of Paul R. Moraski at (978) 397-0011 for a free consultation.