The Ramifications of the Texting Manslaughter Case
A young woman recently made national headlines after being found guilty of manslaughter in an unusual case. The woman had texted her boyfriend, encouraging him to commit suicide. In his decision, the judge in the case called the woman reckless. The woman’s case is the first in which someone has been convicted of such a serious crime for what many believe to be protected under the First Amendment: free speech.
To be clear, the woman was convicted for involuntary manslaughter. The definition for that crime is “an unintentional killing resulting from recklessness or criminal negligence.” Some in the legal community are wondering how text messaging could be considered reckless or negligent when two people are participating in a conversation.
What About the First Amendment?
There is little doubt, after reading some of the things that the woman said to her boyfriend, that her speech could be considered negative (at best). Some have used the word “abhorrent” to describe the woman’s encouragement of suicidal behaviors. Still, there is no statute on the books in any state that makes it technically illegal to encourage someone to kill themselves.
According to the ACLU, the woman’s conviction is not in line with the letter of the law. The organization says that her conviction violates free speech protections. While the man’s death is certainly a tragedy, it is not appropriate to stretch the law in order to hold someone accountable. The woman involved in this case has maintained her innocence throughout the proceedings.
The Future of Free Speech
Experts worry that this conviction will have an effect on the freedom given to people to speak their minds. The ruling has been called a slippery slope, and it is not farfetched to believe that prosecutors will now use the ruling to criminalize forms of speech that do not include hate speech, which is already a crime in some cases.
Speech itself is what is considered under the First Amendment. People now wonder if the Amendment will be interpreted to include the way that speech is interpreted or makes them feel. It is also believed that this case will have an impact on the way cyberbullying is handled in the court system. Should a person commit suicide as the result of online bullying, prosecutors may try to use this case as a basis for charging someone with manslaughter.
Legal experts expect that this case may very well be reversed on appeal. If the First Amendment is applied in the traditional sense, there is no grounds for a manslaughter conviction. It is not known when an appeal will be filed or when such an appeal would be heard in court.
If you have been charged with manslaughter in DeKalb County, it’s important to understand that you have rights. An experienced criminal defense attorney can review the details of your case and determine the best course of action for your unique situation. Call our office today to schedule an appointment for a free case evaluation.