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Michelle Carter gets 15 months in prison in texting suicide case

She urged her then-boyfriend to kill himself in 2014, sparking a potentially precedent-setting case.
David Lumb, @OutOnALumb
August 3, 2017
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Boston Globe via Getty Images

Back in June, a Massachusetts Juvenile Court found Michelle Carter guilty of manslaughter for urging her then-boyfriend to kill himself back in 2014. Today, her sentence came down: Of the maximum 20-year prison sentence she faced, Carter will serve 15 months behind bars, with the remainder of the 2.5-year sentence suspended. She will also get five years probation. Carter will remain free as her appeal to the conviction is still pending.

The compromise decision followed the defense's arguments that Carter was suffering mental illness when she sent text messages to her boyfriend for two weeks telling him to take his own life. That didn't sway the court. According to the BBC, the presiding Judge Lawrence Moniz said he did not find that her "age or level of maturity or even her mental illness have any significant impact on her actions".

Because there is no Massachusetts law criminalizing the act of telling someone to kill themselves, this decision could set legal precedent -- which would have ramifications for free speech. It's the latest high-profile case to address whether digital messages could be considered influential in wrongful death cases; According to Massachusetts law, manslaughter is legally defined as "an unlawful killing that was unintentionally caused as the result of the defendant's wanton or reckless conduct." While there are plenty of cyberbullying statutes on the books, this sentence could be the first of many that punish folks whose digital harassment leads to death.

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