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Is It Illegal to Tell Someone to Commit Suicide?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

There's a case in Massachusetts juvenile criminal court that's creepier than most horror movies. It's the bizarre story of a suicidal teenager and his girlfriend who texted encouragement while he killed himself.

She is 17-year-old Michelle Carter, and she faces involuntary manslaughter charges for her electronic missives, telling Conrad Roy III, "The time is right and you're ready." The case is alarming for what it may say about communication today but also, reports Vice, because of the legal issues it raises.

A Violation of Free Speech Rights?

Civil liberties experts are concerned about the use of Carter's texts to convict and her attorney is arguing that it's a violation of her First Amendment free speech rights. Meanwhile, suicide is not illegal in Massachusetts, which makes it particularly tricky that Carter's charged for her contribution to Roy's death.

In light of all the uproar the case has caused, prosecutors have released the texts they retrieved from Michelle Carter's phone, though she reportedly deleted them at Conrad's request. They are chilling:

"Tonight is the night. It's now or never," Carter told Conrad. She had helped him research methods of killing himself and reminded him of the steps, instructing Conrad to take Benadryl. "If you do it right and listen to what that guy said in the article, it will 100 percent work. It's not that hard to mess up," she wrote.

Her encouragement worked and he was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in a K-Mart parking lot in 2014, truck windows rolled up, running a combustible engine. Carter had reportedly told Conrad, 18, to get back in, she reported in a text to another friend.

Analysis of the Carter Case

Prosecutors call Carter's texts evidence that she was "engaging in a course of wanton or reckless conduct." She faces 20 years in prison on the involuntary manslaughter charges.

But the case has been controversial in great part because suicide is not a crime in Massachusetts. Making aiding in its commission without raising a finger criminal could be a slippery slope, legally speaking.

Then, there's the question of free speech. Carter's attorney wants the matter thrown out on constitutional grounds, arguing that her messages are protected under the First Amendment.

As the Carter case illustrates, this is a complex legal issue. Related cases are no less challenging. For example, in an earlier case, a Minnesota man was arrested and charged with assisting suicide after he told people on suicide websites to go ahead and kill themselves. The charges against this man were partly due to the broad language of Minnesota's suicide law.

Play it safe: don't encourage anyone to kill themselves, especially if you live in a state where suicide is illegal.

Criminally Charged?

If you are accused of a crime, don't delay. Speak to a lawyer today. Many criminal defense attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to discuss your case.

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