Massachusetts high court ruling troubles First Amendment supporters

A unanimous Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found the First Amendment arguments of Michelle Carter lacking and upheld her involuntary manslaughter sentence for prodding her boyfriend to kill himself. (Boston Globe, February 6, 2019, by John R. Ellement and Travis Andersen)

Legal analyst Evan Slavitt took issue with the ruling arguing that it sets a bad precedent by criminalizing speech with the possibility that “any negative comment could result in prosecution.” Slavitt says despite the egregious nature of Carter’s speech, it not possible to know the exact reasons her boyfriend killed himself. “To tease out any one reason,” he wrote, “and say ‘Aha, this made the difference’ is inherently impossible. It is like looking at a person with high blood pressure and saying that this particular chef who put salt on this particular meal was responsible.” (Boston Herald, February 6, 2019)

The director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts, Matt Segal, said the decision would result in charges “based on arbitrary and subjective determinations of what speech is noble and what speech is criminal.” The court emphasized that its ruling was directed at conduct, not speech. It referenced the U.S. Supreme Court in its determination that there is no First Amendment protection for “”speech or writing used as an integral part of conduct in violation of a valid criminal statute.”  (The Sun Chronicle, February 6, 2019, by David Linton)