SJC considers whether a juvenile can be charged with involuntary manslaughter for encouraging another to commit suicide

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments recently in the case of Commonwealth v. Carter. Carter is charged with involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy, to commit suicide. The question the court must answer now is whether evidence that a juvenile has encouraged someone else to commit suicide constitutes “infliction or threat of serious bodily harm” for the purpose of indicting Carter as a youthful offender. Massachusetts currently does not have a statute about whether encouraging another person to commit suicide is criminally punishable.

Carter’s attorneys contend that verbally encouraging someone to commit suicide, no matter how forceful the encouragement, does not constitute a crime in Massachusetts. Carter’s encouragement did not cross the line to conduct that caused Roy’s death. Carter’s attorneys argue that verbal action of encouragement does not constitute “wanton and reckless behavior that results in the death of another” under the Massachusetts involuntary manslaughter statute. Roy was 30 miles away, and her encouragement was telling him to “get back in the car” where he then committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. He got back into the truck with the intention of ending his own life, with no coercion from Carter.

Carter’s attorneys argue that words alone cannot be wanton and reckless. If someone makes a decision to participate in a dangerous activity, it is not because the words of another were wanton and reckless. Even the encouragement to take place in a game of Russian Roulette is not enough to constitute wanton and reckless behavior without the fact that the encouragement is to participate in the underlying crime of taking another’s life.

The Supreme Judicial Court asked about the one other case they had heard that involved a husband encouraging his wife to commit suicide. In that case a husband who had battered his wife loaded the gun for her to kill herself with when she had been unable to do it. The circumstances of that case, however, are distinct from the circumstances of Carter: the husband was physically present and provided the wife with the means to kill herself when she was unable to do it herself.

Carter was not physically present when Roy committed suicide. She did not provide the means for him to commit suicide. The time, location, and manner of suicide were all determined by Roy. The decision to take his life was ultimately his, no matter how encouraging Carter may have been. While Carter’s actions may be reprehensible, it is not a crime in the Commonwealth. The facts of the case show that there is no probable cause that Carter’s encouragement caused Roy’s death, and Carter should not be found to be a youthful offender.

Read more about Carter’s case.

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