Lawyers for Michelle Carter, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2017 for pressuring a troubled Massachusetts teenager through texts and phone calls into killing himself, are petitioning the US Supreme Court to review the case.
The lawyers filed the motion with the Supreme Court on Monday, seeking a review on First and Fifth Amendment grounds. Her communications with Conrad Roy III, the teenager who took his own life, “did not constitute speech that was ‘an integral part of conduct in violation of a valid criminal statute,’ ” the court filing stated.
The motion also questioned whether Carter’s conviction violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment “because in assisted or encouraged suicide cases, the common law of involuntary manslaughter fails to provide reasonably clear guidelines to prevent ‘arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.’ ”
In a statement, Carter’s lawyers said her conviction should not stand. She did not cause Roy’s “tragic death and should not be held criminally responsible for his suicide,” said Daniel Marx, an attorney who represents Carter.
“This petition focuses on just two of the many flaws in the case against her that raise important federal constitutional issues for the US Supreme Court to decide,” he said. “First, charging Ms. Carter based on her words alone violated the First Amendment and the decision upholding her conviction created a conflict among state supreme courts. Second, her conviction violated due process because the vague common law of involuntary manslaughter fails to provide guidance to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement in morally fraught cases involving suicide.”
Carter was 17 when she urged Roy, a Mattapoisett resident, to kill himself in July 2014 — even after he told her he was too scared to go through with it. After a bench trial that drew national headlines, Judge Lawrence Moniz in June 2017 found Carter, of Plainville, guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
It was Carter’s command during their last conversation, that Roy return to his truck — then filled with deadly fumes — and her subsequent failure to act that rose to the level of criminal behavior, Moniz ruled.
Rosanna Cavallaro, a Suffolk University law professor, said she thought there is a “very slim chance” the Supreme Court takes the case.
Criminal law is typically subject to state control, she said.
“She’s being prosecuted under a state definition and that state has the last word on what those definitions mean,” she said.
Daniel Medwed, a Northeastern University law professor, said the Supreme Court is becoming increasingly stingy in granting petitions for review.
“So statistically, it’s a shot in the dark,” he said.
Still, he thought the case had a “better than average chance” of getting reviewed by the Supreme Court because cyberbullying is an issue of national importance and other, future cases may wrangle with someone using electronic messaging to encourage another to commit suicide.
Harvey Silverglate, a Cambridge criminal defense and First Amendment attorney, agreed that the case has a “better chance of getting reviewed than the average case.”
“This was an unusual case for a guilty verdict,” he said. “There’s a tremendous number of ambiguities. She did not kill this guy. At various times, she urged him to kill himself, and at various times she urged him to withdraw from the attempt.”
Moniz sentenced Carter to serve 15 months behind bars, a term that was stayed while her appeal was pending. In February, the state Supreme Judicial Court upheld Carter’s conviction and sentence, ruling that she acted with criminal intent when she “badgered” Roy into taking his own life.
Days after the ruling, Carter was ordered to begin serving her sentence.
Her legal team had until Monday to file the motion with the Supreme Court.
The filing came the day before an HBO documentary on Carter is scheduled to air. The documentary, titled “I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter,” will air in two installments on Tuesday and Wednesday.