Decision Commonwealth v. Carter

Date: 02/06/2019
Organization: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Commonwealth v. Carter
Supreme Judicial Court, February 6, 2019

(Wanton or Reckless Conduct/Verbal Conduct/First Amendment)


The Court declines to revisit legal issues that were addressed in Carter I, as there was no error in the earlier analysis.   The Court does provide further explication on appeal, in certain areas (sufficiency of the evidence, due process, free speech, “infliction” of serious bodily harm, reasonable juvenile, and expert witness). 


  1. Due process claims: The defendant had fair notice that she could be convicted of involuntary manslaughter for her role in the victim’s suicide.  Our common law provides adequate notice that a person could be charged with involuntary manslaughter for reckless or wanton conduct, including verbal conduct, which ultimately causes a victim to commit suicide. 


  1. Free speech claims: “The only verbal conduct punished as involuntary manslaughter has been the wanton or reckless pressuring of a vulnerable person to commit suicide, overpowering that person’s will to live and resulting in that person’s death.  We are therefore not punishing words alone . . . but reckless or wanton words causing death.”  Furthermore, even if applying strict scrutiny to the defendant’s verbal conduct, the restriction on speech has been narrowly circumscribed to further the Commonwealth’s compelling interest in preserving life.  

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