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Legal Experts Say Girlfriend Suicide Texting Case Sets Wrong Precedent

170616-michelle-carter-verdict-ew-528p_dd8cd86ffff864bb78d6c6d2fe69ea93.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000 NBC News

In the wake of a high-profile manslaughter case, lawyers and legal scholars are grappling with an important question: can words be counted as a murder weapon?

Amanda Carter, 20, was recently found guilty of manslaughter in the 2011 suicide of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III. Although Carter was nowhere near Roy at the time, the Massachusetts Juvenile Court ruled that her texts encouraging him to kill himself showed a reckless disregard for life.

Carter’s case was unusual from the beginning. Since the state of Massachusetts does not have any laws against encouraging suicide, Carter was charged with manslaughter. Judge Lawrence Moniz opted to charge her but gave her a relatively lenient sentence, only 2.5 years. Many observers of the case saw Moniz’s sentence as a delicate balance of punishment and rehabilitation.

But the American Civil Liberties Union is not happy with the verdict, which they believe sets a dangerous precedent. 

Matthew Segal, legal director of the Massachusetts ACLU, gave a statement about the ACLU’s position on the case after the verdict came out.

“There is no law in Massachusetts making it a crime to persuade someone to commit suicide,” Segal said.

Segal believes that the ruling flat-out “exceeds the limits of [American] criminal laws and violates free speech protections guaranteed by the Massachusetts and U.S. Constitutions.”

Segal is not the only one who disagrees with the verdict. Daniel Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University School of Law, believes the judge should have taken a more future-oriented approach to the case.

Medwed would prefer to see a new statute criminalizing the encouragement of suicide, as 40 other states already have.

The legal experts who are frustrated with the verdict acknowledge the tragedy of the case, but caution against letting emotions rule when it comes to legal decision-making.

“While Mr. Roy’s death is truly devastating, it is not a reason to stretch the boundaries of our criminal laws or abandon the protections of our Constitution,” Matthew Segal said.

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