In a rare ruling, Michelle Carter, 20, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter last Friday (16/06). Carter is to be sentenced on the 3rd August 2017, for encouraging her then (now deceased) boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to kill himself.
Involuntary manslaughter is defined as: Homicide that is committed without the intent to kill, but with criminal recklessness or negligence.
On July 13th 2014, Roy’s body was found in the parking lot of a Kmart after he had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
‘GET BACK IN THE CAR’
Massachusetts Judge Lawrence Moniz, reasoned that the charge was applicable as Carter neglected to inform any authority- police or Roy’s parents- of his intentions.
In the moments before his suicide Roy wavered and Carter told him to ‘get back in the car’. Prosecutor Maryclare Flynn said “[Ms. Carter]ordered him back in and then listened for 20 minutes as he cried in pain, took his last breath, and then died.”
“She admits in a subsequent text that she did nothing — she did not call the police or Mr. Roy’s family,” Moniz said. “Finally, she did not issue a simple additional instruction: ‘Get out of the truck.’ ”
Bristol County District Attorney Katie Rayburn stated that “the risk Carter created was reckless and amounts to involuntary manslaughter.” She also reasoned that [in the age of people falling] “in love via the Internet and via text.. you can encourage someone to die via text, and you can commit a crime via text.”
Using the fact that Carter and Roy’s general relationship was online*, she reasoned that their online reactions, if strong enough to form an emotional relationship bond, were strong enough to affect and influence actions.
IS IT REALLY MANSLAUGHTER?
The case has garnered understandable public interest and media attention for many reasons (including some saying it could impact freedom of speech). But in this article, the focus will be due to it’s modern nature, tackling accountability of non-verbal or non-physical (ie: online) actions.
According to the NY Times, Robert Cordy, Supreme Judicial Court justice, admits that Carter’s is the first case of involuntary manslaughter indictment based on “words alone.”
Lawyers argue that involuntary manslaughter has been thus far defined as a physically- accountable crime, whereas this is a rare case where the charge for involuntary manslaughter has been assigned to actions via text.
FROM ONLINE TO REAL LIFE
Carter’s ruling sets a morally-driven dilemma for future cases, in accountability for virtual/online interactions. There are no doubt many laws that must be adapted to the very real consequences of what once seemed a non-valid form of reality, that we now see spilling into everyday real-life issues and results.
Cases of suicide resulting from text/online harassment and bullying are not new. The law has, thus far, failed to sufficiently implicate those ‘guilty’ for online conduct that could influence or result in suicide as it has yet to be adapted to account for non-real-life interactions.
With a verdict like this, it won’t be long before we are forced to address the very real question of whether technological/virtual interaction is equivalent to real life interaction.
Judging by the above, at some point we are going to have to admit that online and IRL may not be so separable anymore- and address the very real responsibility of thinking of the repercussions of what we type.
*The word ‘online’ here referring, for lack of a more encompassing term, to any cellular, online, virtual and generally technological interaction.
Words: Zoya Pon
Feature artwork: Alex Gross