SCOTUS Justices Deny Michelle Carter’s Appeal

The Supreme Court decided two weeks ago not to take up an appeal by Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts woman convicted of involuntary manslaughter after she convinced her boyfriend to kill himself. 

Carter was released from jail Thursday after earning back time for “good behavior,” according to Boston 25 News.

The appeal raised the legal question of whether her conviction violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment. Carter’s lawyers argued that her speech, in the form of calls and texts, did not constitute “speech integral to unlawful conduct,” according to the petition to the Supreme Court. The appeal also challenged her conviction ruling on due process grounds, contending that there is insufficient legal guidance preventing arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. 

The Court declined to review the case at all, meaning that her original conviction from 2017 stands.

Carter’s case recently reentered the news cycle following the charges brought against Inyoung You, the former Boston College student who pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter following the suicide of her boyfriend, Alexander Urtula, BC ’19.

You is accused of engaging in patterns of physical and mental abuse toward Urtula in the time leading up to his death, including encouraging him over text to kill himself.

You faces the same charge that Carter did, but there may be a stronger case for the charges that You faces due to the fact that she was present when Urtula jumped to his death from a parking garage—Urtula’s brother texted You the location after Urtula unshared his phone’s location with her.

“It’s a stronger case because there’s an issue in Carter, a lingering issue, about whether the prosecutors met what’s called the causation requirement, that they could show that Carter caused Roy’s death, because, after all, he was alone in a car many miles away,” said Northeastern University law professor Daniel Medwed in an October interview with WGBH. “However, in this case, Ms. You was right there—a stronger case for causation.”

He added that the alleged history of physical and emotional abuse by You strengthened the argument for causation.

Medwed also helped draft a proposal that is up for debate in the Massachusetts State House called Conrad’s Law—named for Roy—which would explicitly criminalize the act of coercing someone into suicide through manipulation or encouragement.

Ken Kersch, a political science professor at BC, characterized the You case as coming down to a discussion of the difference between coercion and participation—a line that could be further blurred after the November revelation that You had sent over 110 texts in the hours leading to his death imploring him not to take his own life.

“They’re on a continuum of coercion and participation,” Kersch said in an interview with The Heights. “And I think that the different courts would judge that differently. The one thing they’re going to do is think of the consequences on other areas of holding. Like if you urge someone to do something and you’re guilty of participation or something like that, that’s going to have consequences outside of girlfriends persuading their friends to kill themselves.”

Both the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office and Steven Kim, You’s lawyer, did not respond to requests for comment.

You’s trial is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 9, 2020. In a pre-trial hearing Tuesday morning, Kim challenged the protective order on the case, which bars much of the evidence in the case from the public eye. The court did not rule on the request at the time—but the hearing will continue on Feb. 20.

Jack Miller contributed reporting to this article.

Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Editor

January 27, 2020