Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Michelle Carter case: Manslaughter and the First Amendment

By now, most of America and perhaps the world has heard the news from Massachusetts in which a juvenile court judge declared 18-year-old Michelle Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of her putative boyfriend, 19-year-old Conrad Roy. Carter was found to have urged Roy to commit suicide, which he did through carbon monoxide poisoning by sitting in his idling truck, through a barrage of texts imploring him to do so.
Some have called the ruling a miscarriage of justice. Some have said the case is one in which the letter of the First Amendment has been imperiled. We're imperiling the First Amendment by stipulating that people, especially young adults, have no idea how to properly use the communication technology to which they've been entrusted? Honestly? I'm hardly a legal scholar, however my understanding is that the First Amendment does not provide cover for language that incites violence or encourages people to commit illegal or dangerous acts.
It was reported in early February that since January 20, over 12,000 postings on social media have called for the assassination of President Trump. Are any of those covered by the right to speech and expression, despite the fact that it's, you know, illegal to kill the President? Is opining that somebody out there must "take one for the team" by whacking Mr. Trump incitement to violence and illegality or is it not? It would appear pretty clear-cut to anyone with even a wet brain.
Now then, if telling someone to "be a man" and kill himself is not encouraging an illegal or dangerous act, then I would love to know what it is. When a mob boss orders a hit on someone, is he not complicit in that person's death, even though he would not be anywhere near the death scene?
The Massachusetts Juvenile Court has the chance, now that a guilty verdict on the charge of manslaughter has been handed down by the presiding judge, to put an obvious psychopath in the clink where she belongs for two decades and we have geniuses decrying it on the basis of some very dubious interpretation of freedom of speech protections. Incredible.
This is like giving a loaded firearm to a severely mentally unstable individual and, after the predictable carnage is unleashed, saying, Well, gee, I didn't expect that he would actually use it. How could you expect me to have known that? (On that note, would we "imperil" the letter of the Second Amendment by denying said firearm to said irrational person?)
I do agree with Jazz Shaw, in his Hot Air website piece, when he writes:
If someone on Twitter tells you to DIAF ('die in a fire' which I've been guilty of tweeting a couple of times) they might be accused of being a shockingly rude or offensive boor. But if you are actually unstable or self-destructive enough to turn around and self-immolate then you had some serious, unresolved issues long before the offensive tweeter came up on your radar.
Fair enough, Jazz. But Carter's harassment and admonishment of Roy concerning the issue of his suicide, before he was successful at it, was relentless. This was no one, fleeting moment of distemper, for which one may wake up the next day and feel foolish. This was determined, deliberate encouragement of a man who was on the edge in terms of his stated desire to die.
If Carter had not told Roy to back into the truck after he initially admitted to being scared and determining that he actually wanted to live, that would be different. That's the thing that seals the deal for me beyond any shadow of doubt. If she had seen the sense in letting it go when Roy admitted his fright, there would have been no possibility of a manslaughter charge against her. Roy was profoundly depressed, but as it turns out, not suicidal after all. By badgering him to get back inside the vehicle on the grounds that he was a coward if he did not, Carter made her intentions all too clear. She was adamant that he die.
With her vile texts, Carter deliberately manipulated his thoughts and encouraged him to go against his own instincts. That's exactly why I don't buy the argument that Roy was his own moral arbiter. That's grade A bullshit. Here we go again, as a society not being able or willing to understand depressive mental illness. So young Mr. Roy just needed to pull himself up by his bootstraps and stand up to her, eh?
Were any of the people arguing against Carter's possible incarceration once nineteen years old themselves, or did they just spring from the earth as fully functional over-25s? Have they never experienced the concept of an awkward adolescent young man being completely under the spell of a good-looking woman, either themselves or through their sons' interactions? Young girls too can be just as easily manipulated by handsome but callous young men, so it slices both ways. Forgive me, dear reader, I know I'm headed into the weeds here, but I had to point that out, because I believe it strengthens the case for both Roy's actions and Carter as a major contributing factor in them.
Massive props to talk-show host Chris Salcedo who was good enough to take the time to debate me via e-mail on the merits of the case. Salcedo pointed out to me, "There is no law, that I know of, that makes suicide illegal. Further, I don't know of any law that make it illegal for a person to text words or say words that encourages suicide. Because of this ruling, an idiot who is watching a guy threaten to jump off a tall building and yelling 'JUMP!' is punishable." When I told Mr. Salcedo that I understood that we can't legislate morality, he replied, "Actually it's simpler than that. There is no law that holds people accountable for texting encouragement for suicide. If there was, then I'd be ok with the sentence."
I maintain that there must be a price to be paid for on-line behavior that goes too far. I do not want the government sticking its big, fat, odiferous butt in our business; this would be an issue for the judiciary as determined by the Supreme Court. I will never be alright with the rule of law when it stipulates that a person can do what Michelle Carter did and just skip away into the sunset. Not in my world.
This case probably will not set any further legal precedent. Even if it does, however, it will make people realize that there are consequences to what is said and expressed through texts and on the internet, especially social media. Please don't talk to me about the personal responsibility of Conrad Roy, when the issue is the responsibility—or abrogation thereof—of the so-called girlfriend who was absolutely complicit in his death.

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