Does The Conviction of Michelle Carter Open the Door to Prosecuting Anyone Who Openly Supports Euthanasia?
The trial of Michelle Carter garnered news headlines and even prompted the production of a documentary because the minor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to serve jail time after text messages revealed that she had encouraged her boyfriend Conrad Roy, who had long suffered from depression and had previously tried to commit suicide, to kill himself. The two had shared an intimate relationship concerning mutual mental health problems that they both shared.
Carter’s attorneys have now filed a certiorari petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has scheduled a conference in her case for next month. They argue that not only had she not taken any actual actions that had caused Roy’s death, but that her statements were protected by the First Amendment and her conviction for mere “words” was completely unprecedented. In addition, her conviction conflicts with a number of decisions by other state supreme courts.
Is This Prosecution Based On Moral Opinion?
In addition to First Amendment concerns, there are a number of other concerns associated with the precedent set by convicting Carter; most significantly that her case arguably involves a certain amount of moral judgment concerning the rights and wrongs of suicide and assisted suicide. Specifically, many are now concerned that the decision, as it stands, could open the door for prosecutors to bring charges against family members who encourage terminally ill relatives to end their suffering by committing suicide. The decision has already been used to charge others with manslaughter in association with suicides.
Indeed, it is this potential Pandora’s box that could lead to widespread prosecution of those who, even as a matter of personal religious belief, strongly believe that certain individuals in pain have the right to take their own lives that is of significant concern in this case. There is no question that it opens the door for potential unwarranted prosecutions all based on the discretion of the prosecutor in a given context. Simply because a state has an interest in preventing suicide they cannot prohibit the expression of an idea and criminalize speech based on its message.
Does This Survive Strict Scrutiny?
In order for governments to place any restriction on speech, a compelling government interest must exist, where whatever restriction that has been put in place is narrowly drawn so as to serve that specific interest. In this case, the application of involuntary manslaughter is both unconstitutionally vague and not narrowly tailored; in fact, it could easily be applied to any speech that causes someone else to commit suicide.
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