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With respect to a charge of involuntary manslaughter, because wanton or reckless conduct requires a consideration of the likelihood of a result occurring, the inquiry is by its nature entirely fact-specific. The circumstances of the situation dictate whether the conduct is or is not wanton or reckless. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts need not--and indeed cannot--define where on the spectrum between speech and physical acts involuntary manslaughter must fall. Instead, the inquiry must be made on a case-by-case basis.
On February 6, 2015, the defendant, Michelle Carter, was indicted as a youthful offender under G. L. c. 119, § 54, on a charge of involuntary manslaughter after she, at the age of seventeen, encouraged Conrad Roy (the victim), then eighteen years of age, to commit suicide. To indict a juvenile as a youthful offender, the grand jury must hear evidence establishing probable cause that (1) the juvenile is between the ages of fourteen and eighteen at the time of the underlying offense; (2) the underlying offense, if committed by an adult, would be punishable by imprisonment in State prison; and (3) the underlying offense involves the infliction or threat of serious bodily harm. G. L. c. 119, § 54. The defendant moved in the Juvenile Court to dismiss the youthful offender indictment, arguing that the Commonwealth failed to present the grand jury with sufficient evidence of involuntary manslaughter and that the defendant's conduct did not involve the infliction or threat of serious bodily harm. The motion was denied.
Was the evidence sufficient to warrant the return of an indictment for involuntary manslaughter where Carter’s conduct did not extend beyond words?
The juvenile court properly refused to dismiss an indictment returned under the youthful offender statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 119, § 54, as evidence that Carter sent her boyfriend text messages encouraging him to kill himself, instructing him as to when and how to do so, assuaging his concerns over killing himself, and chastising him when he delayed doing so established probable cause to warrant the return of an indictment for involuntary manslaughter in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 13, which was punishable by a term in state prison and inherently involved the infliction of serious bodily harm. Carter’s speech was not protected under the First Amendment or Mass. Const. Decl. Rights art. XVI because the Commonwealth had a compelling interest in deterring speech that had a direct, causal link to a specific victim's suicide.