How The Michelle Carter Case Could Give Birth To A New Law

From time to time, someone will commit a heinous act that has to be illegal, only for police and prosecutors to find out that there is no specific law against what they did. For example, in 2008 in Mississippi, as the Jackson Free Press reports, a woman tried to sell her granddaughter for $2,000 and a car, but then prosecutors later found out that the practice wasn't specifically illegal in the Magnolia State at the time, and so there was nothing they could charge her with.

Of course, the Constitution prevents the government from making a law and then retroactively charging you with breaking it; that's called ex post facto legislation and it's specifically forbidden in Article I, Section 9, Clause 3. So basically in situations like this, all a government can do is charge the person with a law that's possibly adjacent to their act, and later pass a law making the act illegal, in case someone does it again.

Massachusetts found itself in a similar situation as Mississippi after a young woman coerced her boyfriend into committing suicide. She wasn't criminally charged since there was no specific law against her actions. 

The Michelle Carter case

The story of Michelle Carter became the subject of "The Girl From Plainville," a 2022 drama series on Hulu. For those not familiar, the basic facts, via NBC Boston, are as follows. Michelle met Conrad Roy in Florida in 2012, while both families were on vacation. Coincidentally, the two teens lived in neighboring towns in Massachusetts, according to Investigation Discovery, but nevertheless, the entirety of their relationship appears to have been via text messages and the like.

Both teens suffered from mental illness, and Conrad, in particular, suffered from depression and had made previous suicide attempts. On July 13, 2014, Conrad, who was 18 years old at the time, committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his pickup truck. Carter, who was 17 at the time, sent a series of text messages to Conrad, encouraging him to go through with it. At one point, Roy had thought better of his suicide plan and got out of the truck, but Michelle texted him to "get back in the truck."

Massachusetts did not have a law against goading someone into suicide at that time, so Carter was instead charged with involuntary manslaughter. She was convicted and ultimately sentenced to 15 months behind bars, according to The Associated Press.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Conrad's Law

As of March 2022, Massachusetts legislators were working on passing what would be known as "Conrad's Law," which would make coercing someone into committing suicide a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, as MassLive reports. Oddly enough, though the law is named for Conrad Roy, there was another case in Massachusetts of a woman persuading a man into killing himself, which took place after the Carter-Roy case, making even more pressing the need for such a law. Indeed, if Massachusetts does pass the law, it would make the Bay State the 43rd state with such a law, according to People.

Conrad's mother, Lynn St. Denis, is hopeful that the Massachusetts legislature will pass the law named for her son. "With this tragedy, my son would want me to help other people, other families," she told People. "If we get the law passed — when we do — that's going to be a win for me, for him."