Teenagers say a lot of dumb things that they don’t actually believe or mean. During the teen years, kids make mistakes and learn from them to become productive adults. Unfortunately, a recent case demonstrates that some prosecutors and judges want to hold our young people to a different standard than what they were held to while they were growing up.
According to The New York Times, teenager Michelle Carter who sent numerous texts to another teenager, Conrad Roy III, urging him to kill himself was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter based upon her digital activity. Both teenagers were extremely depressed and appeared to some psychological issues. When Mr. Roy killed himself, Ms. Carter was miles away and did not assist him physically with his suicide. However, the judge found that her texts encouraging him to kill himself justified an involuntary manslaughter conviction.
This was a tragedy and my heart goes out to the Roy family for their loss. No family should have to deal with this situation. Ms. Carter’s behavior was immoral and disgusting. A true friend would have helped Mr. Roy seek the help he needed and not encourage him to kill himself.
Despite the guilty verdict, according to the facts and the law, this decision should be reversed on appeal. Massachusetts does not appear to have a law that restricts people from telling others to go kill themselves. Mr. Roy had performed Internet searches on how to commit suicide and he alone physically set up the mechanism that killed himself.
If this decision stands it creates a slippery slope regarding First Amendment Rights. Every single text teenagers and anyone else sends could send them to prison for years. This has tremendous unintended consequences. Digital jokes and sarcasm do not transfer well in the court room so this is a very troubling decision that if followed by other courts will send many innocent teens to jail for crimes they did not commit.
Unfortunately, too many young people utilize digital services that don’t adequately protect their personal information and communications. While I don’t advise anyone send texts to others encouraging suicide or other illegal acts, society needs to better understand how our kids digitally communicate and educate accordingly.
This case demonstrates the importance for our teenagers to learn how to limit their digital footprint and communicate with each other in ways that will protect their privacy and security. This decision is a major attack on First Amendment Rights and if this decision stands prosecutors and judges across the country will use it as persuasive authority in their cases and rulings. Our criminal and civil courts will be flooded with cases where young people are charged with serious crimes over dumb sh*t they text which they really didn’t mean.
This case will be praised by some unethical personal injury lawyers who want another cause of action to inflate their incomes. Over the years, I have watched too many ambulance chasing lawyers try to hold innocent people accountable for the immature and/or illegal actions of their own clients.
This case demonstrates why young people need to learn about digital privacy, security, and the law. I council clients about the importance of protecting your privacy and security in the Digital Age because you never know how others may use your digital emissions against you to intentionally destroy your life.