Volume 56

If Words Can Kill, How Should Criminal Law Intervene?

by Yixuan Zhang

On February 6, 2019, the Massachusetts Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of Michelle Carter for involuntary manslaughter regarding the suicide of her boyfriend Conrad Roy. The court held that Carter, knowing Roy’s fragile mental health and suicidal thoughts, encouraged him through numerous text messages to commit suicide and instructed him to complete his final suicidal plan. One failed defense asserted by Carter was that the conviction “violated her right to free speech under the First Amendment.” This has spurred heated debate about criminalizing speech that encourages or assists in suicide, and raised the question: if words have the power to kill, how should criminal law intervene?”

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