Smith: 13 Reasons Why Not – in defense of Michelle Carter

In 2017, we as a country have managed to convict a person of involuntary manslaughter for speaking to another human being who then chose to take his own life.

Let me start with saying that I do not in any way, shape or form believe that Michelle Carter is a good person, or even a decent one. The entire incident sounds gross. She and her friend had a conversation, and afterward, he chose to take his own life. I am fully aware that human beings are emotional creatures; however, the fact of the matter is this: no matter what you think of Michelle Carter, she did not cause the death of Conrad Roy III.


Roy had a litany of options at his disposal, and he sought out none of them. He could have spoken to his parents. He could have seen a guidance counselor. He could have seen a therapist. He could have spoken to any one of a hundred different people, and instead got into a long and completely disturbing exchange with Carter.

The fact that she told him to get back into the truck upon getting cold feet is irrelevant. The fact that he spoke to her on the phone is irrelevant. He could have turned off the truck. He could have run away. He could have smashed his phone. He could have broken up with her. There are several choices that he could have made, and he chose to end his life.

Is this really a crime? It is tragic, but is it a crime? Common sense says, no.

A criminal law professor at University of Maryland says: "She knew he wasn't in a position to make free choices for himself" and that "[s]he substituted her agency for his agency." Neither of these quotes actually suffice as legal argument. Roy was depressed, and sad, and his death will be famous forever; however, he ultimately chose to end his life.

The worst part about these two quotes regarding this case is that they make for good soundbites, but ultimately do not explain anything. Why was he not able to make his own decisions? Presumably, the reason is because he was depressed and sad. However, Roy being depressed and sad does not excuse him from having exchanged hundreds of text messages with Carter. It does not excuse him for not having told anyone else about his state of being. It does not excuse him from having not visited the guidance counselor. It does not excuse him for having not called a professional therapist. There are so many things that he could have chosen to do, and he simply ignored it, or did not want to.

His abdication of personal responsibility does not mean that blame should be assigned to Carter. His abdication of personal responsibility does not shift the assignment of criminality to another person for choices he made — and did not make — time and time again.

Roy died in a truck. It followed a disturbing conversation and a series of messages exchanged between he Carter. But the events preceding his death did not cause his death, but for one: he chose to get back into the car. He exercised the ultimate freedom of expression, and Carter was convicted for his decisions. This is a grave miscarriage of justice and absolves him of personal responsibility.

Keith Smith writes from Sykesville.