In a landmark case, a 20-year-old woman was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for urging her boyfriend, via text, to kill himself. However, some experts are concerned about the legal precedent the decision may set concerning technology, morality, and the law.
The woman, who was 17 at the time of the 2014 suicide, placed her 18-year-old boyfriend in a situation that lead to his death, according to the judge. When the young woman is sentenced in August, she faces up to 20 years in prison.
The Massachusetts couple met online several years before the suicide. They pursued a romantic relationship but had only met in person a few times before the teen's death. The young man had a history of depression and had attempted suicide previously. His girlfriend knew about his depression, and in early communications, seemed to offer helpful advice. When he suggested they kill themselves together, she was strongly opposed the idea. Instead, she urged him to seek mental health treatment, texting: “If you give them a chance, they can save your life,”
However, as the young man continued to talk about suicide, his girlfriend seemed to relent, according to text messages presented as evidence at trial. The night before he died, his girlfriend texted: “You're just making it harder on yourself by pushing it off, you just have to do it,” adding, “If u don't do it now you're never gonna do it,” The young man was still texting his girlfriend the next day as he sat in his truck in a parking lot breathing in carbon monoxide from a gas-powered water pump. When the teen had second thoughts and got out of the truck, his girlfriend urged him, through texts, to complete the act. The woman's defense attorney argued that although she did not do anything to prevent the suicide -- such as call the police -- she did not explicitly order him to get back in his truck.
Legal experts are questioning the conviction for a myriad of reasons.
“I draw a line between moral and legal implications of what she did," said Daniel Medwed, Professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University. The decision blurred the line between a person's morals and the law. “In terms of morality, what she did is despicable. But that doesn't constitute manslaughter, and that's the problem.”
Some legal experts question the role technology -- by way of cyberbullying -- may have in a future court decision. Although the woman did not speak to her boyfriend, their written communications via text demonstrated a “level of wanton and reckless disregard for the life of the victim,” noting that “seemingly remote and distant communications will not insulate individuals from heinous acts that could rise to the level of criminal culpability.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts finds the court decision troubling, but for a different reason. They contend the decision violates free speech protections and could interfere with important “end-of-life discussions between loved ones.”
Regardless of the circumstances, everyone deserves the best defense. If you have been arrested or are facing criminal charges, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.