The ever-photogenic Michelle Carter, the Connecticut teen accused of assisting in her boyfriend’s 2014 suicide, and hereinafter referred to as the “Defendant”, is in the news again.
You may remember the Defendant. In fact, the good folks at Altman & Altman, llp posted a blog in my absence about the case on September 9th.
In summary, the Defendant, now 18-years-old but 17 at the time at issue, is accused of involuntary manslaughter. The Commonwealth has alleged that she helped to cause the death of Conrad Roy III, although he, in fact, committed suicide.
The Commonwealth apparently bases its case on correspondence they have found which it says encouraged young Mr. Roy to take his own life.
How the Commonwealth intends to show that such correspondences actually caused him to kill himself is not yet clear.
Mr. Roy’s family, as one might expect, are on board with the prosecution. His aunt indicated that he had been turning his life around since his previous attempt at suicide. After his release from the psychiatric hospital, the family believed that was starting to see the light again following his periods of darkness.
It would appear that the Commonwealth believes that the Defendant’s correspondences show that she was instrumental to keep him in the darkness. The fact that she actually texted a friend blaming herself for his death is also being used to prove the prosecution’s case.
Now, the defense is revealing other correspondences which may make the prosecution’s case even harder.
Such correspondences include the following from the Defendant to her friend:
“Let’s get better and fight this together”;
“I’m scared for you that you aren’t gonna get better and you’ll become suicidal again and stuff … Promise me right now that you won’t,” Carter added. “I’ll be here to help you get thru this.”; and
“Its not too late I promise. I’m gonna help you find yourself.”
Sounds pretty homicidal, doesn’t it?
According to defense counsel, “It was only after he explained to a 17-year-old girl, via many, many text messages, that he just isn’t like everyone else and he wants to kill himself and not live … that it changed.” He argued this during a hearing where he brought a motion to Dismiss…what seems to have been a Mccarthy motion. Such a motion indicates to the court that a Grand Jury did not have enough evidence to enable them to return an indictment in the homicide case.
Apparently, the argument was based upon his client’s First Amendment rights
He lost the argument. As the court ruled, “The First Amendment of the United States Constitution does not protect conduct that threatens another… “(T)he defendant’s conduct threatened serious bodily harm to the victim. As such, the defendant’s conduct is not protected by the First Amendment.”
According to the Boston Herald, defense counsel said he was “both surprised and disappointed” by the court’s decision and will appeal.
He needn’t be…and that appeal will not be able to go forward unless and until his client loses at trial.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Motion To Dismiss Reality
First of all, when your client is apt to be making faces such as the Defendant seems to make during court hearings, it is a good idea to do whatever is possible to block her face from the cameras. Particularly this photo in today’s Herald is less than sympathetic.
I have not seen the motion papers. However, arguing the First Amendment in a homicide case is generally going to fail during a Mccarthy motion.
Because there are limits to such a right. For example, one is not allowed to yell “Fire!” just for fun in a crowded theatre. This case is similar in terms of the issue here.
During such a motion, the court must weigh the evidence in a light most favorable to the Commonwealth. The defense’ position is basically, “Judge, assuming all the facts presented by the prosecutor to the Grand Jury are true, there was not enough evidence as a matter of law”.
Thus, it would seem that the facts of the correspondences between the Defendant and Mr. Roy are considered a given. Whatever the Commonwealth is depending upon to show that the Defendant’s words led to the suicide, it would appear that such evidence, too, is accepted as true for purposes of the motion.
Incidentally, there are other potential motions to dismiss which can be brought. For example, if the Commonwealth misled the grand jurors, there is a motion called O’Dell that can be brought. That would have been appropriate if the prosecutor did not present the correspondences the defense has now released to the grand jurors.
While there may be a time for an argument such as the First Amendment, clearly, this was not it. It was a novel try, though.
Unlike motions to suppress evidence, motions to dismiss are not appealable until the entire case is appealed where there is already a conviction.
One would imagine that the Defendant is hoping that such does not come to pass.