Lawyer: Urg­ing sui­cide is speech

At­tor­ney ap­peal­ing con­vic­tion cites 1st Amend­ment right

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Nation & World - By Erin B. Lo­gan

Con­rad Roy III was in love with his girl­friend, Michelle Carter, who in 2014 en­cour­aged him to kill him­self.

“To Michelle,” read Roy’s sui­cide note, “this life has been chal­leng­ing and trou­ble­some for me but I’ll forever be in your heart and we will meet up some­day in heaven . . . I (heart) you.”

Carter, then 17, was sen­tenced to 2½ years in prison for urg­ing her boyfriend to com­mit sui­cide.

It was her text mes­sages, the judge said, that pushed the 18-year-old over the edge.

But Carter’s at­tor­neys, in an ap­peal filed last month, ar­gued that the judge’s de­ci­sion vi­o­lated her right to free speech and that the texts should not have been used to con­vict her.

“Be­cause the judge con­victed Carter for what she said, or failed to say, not what she did, this case im­pli­cates free speech un­der the 1st Amend­ment,” her at­tor­neys said in a brief.

The stan­dard used to test First Amend­ment cases has ex­isted since 1968 and it dic­tates that ab­stract ad­vo­cacy of il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity is pro­tected by the Con­sti­tu­tion, ac­cord­ing to Clay Calvert, di­rec­tor of Mar­ion B. Brech­ner First Amend­ment Project.

“A speaker is not pro­tected by the First Amend­ment if her speech is in­tended to in­cite or pro­duce im­mi­nent un­law­ful ac­tion and if such un­law­ful ac­tion is sub­stan­tially likely to oc­cur,” Calvert said in an email.

Joseph Cataldo, one of Carter’s at­tor­neys, said Carter did not call for “im­mi­nent law­less­ness” be­cause there is no state statute that deems it il­le­gal to en­cour­age sui­cide.

“Mas­sachusetts com­mon law has never said that words alone with­out phys­i­cal pres­ence has been suf­fi­cient to con­sti­tute a homi­cide — not un­til this case,” he said. “Any new def­i­ni­tion of com­mon law can only be ap­plied mov­ing for­ward, you can­not ap­ply it to past events.”

Ini­tially, some of Carter’s texts en­cour­aged Roy to get help. But later, she be­gan to push him to fol­low through on talk of killing him­self.

“So I guess you aren’t gonna do it then, all that for noth­ing,” Carter texted Roy hours be­fore his sui­cide. “I’m just so con­fused like you were so ready and de­ter­mined.”

Po­lice in 2014 found Roy’s body in a truck parked at a Kmart, ac­cord­ing to a Post re­port. Au­thor­i­ties ruled his death a sui­cide from “car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing from the wa­ter pump” at­tached to his ve­hi­cle, records said. Roy had a his­tory of men­tal ill­ness, ac­cord­ing to court records.

Roy’s mother, Lynn Roy, sued Carter last year for $4.2 mil­lion for her “neg­li­gence and wan­ton and reck­less con­duct,” ac­cord­ing to court records.


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