PLAINVILLE — Michelle Carter will likely complete or be near the end of her 15-month jail sentence before the U.S. Supreme Court decides on her petition to vacate her involuntary manslaughter conviction.
Carter, 23, was sentenced to jail in February after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unanimously upheld her conviction in the July 2014 suicide of Conrad Roy III of Mattapoisett. She was denied parole in September.
Carter was 17 when she texted and called Roy, 18, encouraging him to kill himself in his pickup truck in a Fairhaven parking lot. Roy, who previously tried to kill himself, breathed in toxic fumes from a gas-powered water pump.
A Taunton Juvenile Court judge found that Carter sapped Roy’s will and convinced him during a phone call to get back inside the truck when he apparently had second thoughts about taking his life.
There is no record of the actual verbal conversation, but Carter told a friend afterwards that she could hear the water pump and Roy moaning, telling the friend she felt responsible.
Although Carter and Roy met fewer than three times, they shared an intimate texting and telephone relationship about their mutual mental health problems. At the time of Roy’s death, the state SJC found in a landmark decision, heavily criticized by free speech advocates, that Carter was “virtually present,” even though she was 40 miles away.
In their briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court, Carter’s lawyers, Joseph Cataldo of Franklin and Daniel Marx of Boston, argue that Carter’s conviction for “words alone” was unprecedented and was contrary to her First Amendment free speech protections. They want the nation’s high court to vacate her conviction.
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, on the other hand, argues that there are no First Amendment issues in the case because Carter’s speech was “integral to criminal conduct.” Prosecutors urged the Supreme Court to reject Carter’s petition.
Carter’s lawyers argued that her words could not constitute “criminal conduct” since she did not do anything other than text and talk on the phone to Roy.
They urged the court to take up the case because Carter’s conviction conflicted with recent decisions by supreme courts in three other states. Prosecutors argued that there was no conflict.
Carter’s lawyers also said there is nothing in the ruling in Carter’s case to prevent a prosecutor, who believes that all suicide and assisted suicide is “morally blameworthy,” from charging people who encourage terminally ill relatives to end terrible suffering by committing suicide.
They cited a recent case in Suffolk County where a former Boston College student is now charged with manslaughter in the death of her boyfriend, also a BC student, in a similar texting-suicide.
The U.S. Supreme Court has a conference scheduled in Carter’s case next month.
Her lawyers have filed what is known as a certiorari petition, which the court is under no obligation to hear. It usually only accepts cases that could have national significance, might resolve conflicting decisions in the federal circuit courts or have precedential value.
The court is asked to review about 7,000 cases each year. It takes four of the nine justices to vote to hear a case, but legal experts say the court only accepts about 2 percent of the petitions submitted each year.