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Assisted Suicide or Involuntary Manslaughter?

In 2012, Massachusetts voters narrowly defeated an assisted suicide ballot measure. The Death with Dignity initiative failed to pass, with 51 percent of voters opposing the measure, and 49 percent in favor. Often known as "assisted suicide," the initiative would have been limited to allowing terminally ill patients with 6 months or less to live, to be given a dose of lethal drugs. However, a different form of "assisted suicide" may bring involuntary manslaughter charges. In a recent case, a teenage girl has been charged for her alleged involvement in encouraging a depressed friend to take his own life.

Last summer, an 18-year-old Fairhaven man was struggling with thoughts of suicide. According to police reports, it may have been a friend who helped to push Conrad Roy over the edge, to take his own life. Now, Michelle Carter, 18, of Plainville, Massachusetts, will face a pretrial hearing next month on charges of involuntary manslaughter. The charges stem from allegations that Carter sent text messages to her friend that urged him to go through with suicide even, after he expressed doubts about it.

Roy was found dead in the trunk of his car after his parents reported him missing. The cause of death appeared to be carbon monoxide poisoning. When police searched the car, they also discovered Roy's mobile phone, and among the text messages were "hundreds" of texts between Roy and Carter. Some of those text messages appeared to contain language from Carter to encourage Roy to commit suicide. At one point, Roy had a change of heart, got out of his car, and texted Carter that he was not ready to leave his family. Carter allegedly responded via text to "get back in."

Carter gave a different impression publicly, when shortly after his death, she posted to her Twitter account, "I will never understand why this had to happen."After Roy's death, Carter posted social media messages that she missed Roy. She even organized a sporting event in Roy's honor which raised more than $2,000 for mental health awareness.

Gregg Miliote, a spokesperson for the Bristol County District Attorney's Office said that instead of helping to notify Roy's family or school officials, "Ms. Carter is alleged to have strongly influenced his decision to take his own life, encouraged him to commit suicide and guided him in his engagement of activities which led to his death."

Carter will be charged as a youthful offender, because she was under 18 at the time of the alleged crime. This means that although she will be tried as a juvenile, the court proceedings will be public. Joseph Cataldo, the lawyer for Carter, said that his client did not commit manslaughter, and in fact tried to console Roy. Cataldo said the information released by the police and prosecutors put his client in the worst possible light, and that Roy planned the suicide, "for months and months."

In Massachusetts, involuntary manslaughter involves the unlawful killing of another as the result of reckless conduct. In this case, the reckless conduct may be alleged to be Carter's communications with Roy leading up to his death. If found guilty, Carter could face up to 20 years in prison.

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