The Case of Michelle Carter: What Would Happen in Kentucky?

Alexander Magera, KLJ Staff Editor

In July 2014, Massachusetts authorities discovered numerous text messages exchanged between teenager Conrad Roy III and Roy’s girlfriend, Michelle Carter.[1] These text messages revealed Roy’s hesitation and second-guessing regarding his possible suicide, which he sadly committed by carbon monoxide poisoning.[2] To the horror of authorities, Roy’s family and friends, and the general public, the text messages also revealed that Carter strongly pushed for Roy to take his own life, encouraging him to do so through messages such as, “There isn’t anything anyone can do to save you, not even yourself,” and, “You always say you’re gonna [sic] do it, but you never do . . . I just want to make sure tonight is the real thing.”[3]

Carter now faces involuntary manslaughter charges in Massachusetts Juvenile Court, carrying a possibility of twenty years in prison.[4] But what if this tragedy had occurred in Kentucky?  Under the law of the Commonwealth, it seems that a person in Carter’s situation could potentially be criminally liable for her actions.

KRS 216.302(2) states that:

A person commits a Class D felony when the person, with the purpose of assisting another person to commit or to attempt to commit suicide, knowingly and intentionally either: (a) Provides the physical means by which another person commits or attempts to commit suicide; or (b) Participates in a physical act by which another person commits or attempts to commit suicide.[5]

On its face, KRS 216.302(2) specifies the “providing” of physical means or the “participation” in a physical act as the actions needed to hold someone criminally liable for assisting someone with suicide.[6] No real argument could be made that Carter “provided the physical means” for Roy to commit suicide, as Carter did not interact with Roy in any way during his suicide other than by text messages. The prosecution might also argue that Carter “participated in a physical act” by continuously messaging Roy throughout his act, but this argument is somewhat of a stretch. Case law surrounding KRS 216.302(2) includes a situation involving a doctor-patient relationship,[7] as well as a situation in which a friend provided another friend with drugs, the use of which resulted in death.[8] Neither of these cases is factually similar to Carter’s case.

The Commonwealth could also charge Carter under KRS 507.050, which governs reckless homicide. KRS 507.050 states, “A person is guilty of reckless homicide when, with recklessness [s]he causes the death of another person.”[9] KRS 501.020 defines “recklessness” as “failing to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists.”[10] The definition continues, stating “The risk must be of such nature and degree that failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.”[11] Case law surrounding KRS 507.050 regarding suicide includes the same drug case involving KRS 216.302(2).[12]

A strong argument could be made that Carter should be held criminally liable under this statute, as Carter, at the very least, failed to perceive that the pressure she put on Roy to follow through with his act risked resulting in Roy actually taking his own life, and actually did cause Roy to take his own life. As someone who Roy felt close to, Carter failed to perceive that she was in a position to, not only refrain from egging him on in any way, but to actually prevent Roy from taking his own life. The causal connection between Carter’s actions and Roy’s resulting death would probably prove to be the biggest source of debate in court.

Ed. note: This post is not intended to be construed as legal advice.


[1] Abby Philip, ‘It’s Now or Never’: Texts Reveal Teen’s Efforts to Pressure Boyfriend Into Suicide, Wash. Post, Aug. 31, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/08/31/its-now-or-never-texts-reveal-teens-efforts-to-pressure-boyfriend-into-suicide/.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Michael E. Miller, Michelle Carter can face manslaughter charge for allegedly encouraging boyfriend’s suicide, judge rules, Wash. Post, Sept. 24, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/24/michelle-carter-can-face-manslaughter-charge-for-allegedly-encouraging-boyfriends-suicide-judge-rules/.

[5] KRS 216.302(2) (2006).

[6] Id.

[7] See Woods v. Com., 142 S.W.3d 24 (Ky. 2004).

[8] See Lofthouse v. Com., 13 S.W.3d 236 (Ky. 2000).

[9] KRS 507.050(1) (2006).

[10] KRS 501.020(4) (2006).

[11] Id.

[12] Lofthouse, 13 S.W.3d at 236.