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Death via text message

texting-suicide

In daily life, I'm a lawyer and there is a recent case that really captured my attention. I don't practice criminal law, but the psychological aspects associated with such are of real interest and fascination for me. In Massachusetts, a complex legal/societal dilemma recently played out, likely altering the course of criminal jurisprudence in the U.S. It weaves all elements of the modern social world into one web, with the threshold for personal responsibility as the main trigger point for the Court's decision.

The girl pictured here, now aged 20, persuaded her ex-boyfriend in thousands of text messages to commit suicide. Even tormenting him and calling him a pussy for not doing it, when he threatened to on multiple occasions. I guess it could be described, unfortunately, as the ultimate mind fuck game by a female. Eventually, he succumbed at age 18, committing suicide by asphyxiation and lethal fumes in a parked car in his garage. The girl listened over the phone as he took his last breath, and failed to alert authorities at any point for rescue, or even his parents after it was clear he died.

The Massachusetts Judge found that her failure to act, when she was the one who put the boy in the toxic environment in the first place, constituted reckless conduct, punishable by a guilty verdict in the involuntary manslaughter trial. Basically, the ruling held that her conduct caused the suicide, not the boy's own free will. That the thousands of texts she sent, the bullying, the instigation to follow through with suicide...all of it tipped the young man, who had a documented history of mental problems, over the edge.

Many view the verdict as concerning because it reflects a judicial willingness to expand legal liability for another person's suicide, an act which by definition is a completely independent choice. Moreover, when and under what circumstances is the line between mere trolling crossed such that criminal culpability arises?

The case may alter laws in Massachusetts and creates a real twist, holding that someone's words literally killed another...that the murder weapon was not a gun, knife, hands used to strangle, or some other more commonly known method to inflict death on another. In this case, the murder weapon was characters typed and read on a mobile device, and little more.

Everyone complains about the criminal justice system, but as this case demonstrates, everything is not so black and white. The Courts and juries constantly tackle such provocative situations, highlighting all of the most vile elements of human nature. And it is their job to try to make sense of it all, and ensure "justice" (whatever that really means) is served.

Thoughts? Should the girl be punished in some way for her actions? And, if so, what punishment befits this horrid crime?



Comments

( 108 comments — Leave a comment )
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morreth
Jun. 22nd, 2017 11:52 am (UTC)
I think it's murder, no less. And she must be judged for the first degree murder, whatever the puishment is. If it is capital, so be it.
peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 11:55 am (UTC)
I don't understand the involuntary manslaughter charge, actually. Based on the circumstances, it should have been something akin to what you said - first degree murder. Because premeditation was clearly present on her part..."involuntary manslaughter" - this is something that is unintentional, and not premeditated. Sentencing has not yet occurred, but she faces maximum of 20 years. I think the prosecutors went for the lesser charge, because there was a greater probability of success.

Edited at 2017-06-22 12:21 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - llmaxxxll - Jun. 23rd, 2017 05:58 am (UTC) - Expand
mb_b
Jun. 22nd, 2017 11:53 am (UTC)
Sounds almost like a Jodi Picoult story... perhaps she'll write one on this yet.

But seriously, many a teen has been driven to suicide by peer bullying. No such cases came to courts before?
peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:00 pm (UTC)
The laws have not yet caught up with the rapid spread of the cyber-bullying epidemic. So, in many States, there are no statutes on the books under which someone may be criminally charged. In other words, no criminal law applied to the circumstances, or especially catered to protecting cyber-bullying victims. But, sure, there have been plenty of cases and the trend will continue upward. :(
(no subject) - procurator0 - Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - procurator0 - Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
moskitow
Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:09 pm (UTC)
I see a crime only in her knowing he is about to die and not calling anybody. So I guess, I agree with the Judge.
The problem with thousands of text messages....well any person can through the phone in the garbage and not receive a single message ever again. Unless you have mental problems or instability already you always have this option to disconnect.


peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:14 pm (UTC)
He had some known mental problems, and I think this made the woman seem even less sympathetic and especially cruel in the Judge's eyes. The boy was an easy pawn for manipulation...but, still, you are right. Everyone has the option to disconnect, block someone from social media, change their phone number, etc. That is why the case walks a very fine line...complicated. :)
g_kar
Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:41 pm (UTC)
In Russia we have relevant criminal rule №110, "Incitement to suicide".
peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:43 pm (UTC)
"Incitement" - hmm, I think it is a very vague and ambiguous term. :) Is it defined in the relevant Russian statute?
(no subject) - g_kar - Jun. 22nd, 2017 12:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jun. 22nd, 2017 01:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - muh2 - Jun. 22nd, 2017 03:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - g_kar - Jun. 27th, 2017 01:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - phantom_zapad - Jun. 23rd, 2017 12:44 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jun. 23rd, 2017 05:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
redheadrat
Jun. 22nd, 2017 01:35 pm (UTC)
As you said, it is a modern case in modern times.

The society is slow to respond to the simple fact that people's privacy has been renegaded only to what is inside each person's brain. Physical bullying is for elementary school, soon after that it turns into verbal abuse that way too often involves publicity. What is a funny viral video for millions might be a lifetime of shame for one.

She deserves a harsh punishment, but not incarceration as I believe it is the most useless punishment of all.
peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 01:36 pm (UTC)
What you wrote is exactly correct. As stated above, I also view incarceration as useless. But I've not yet decided what proper punishment should be in this instance...
(no subject) - redheadrat - Jun. 22nd, 2017 01:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pasha1980 - Jun. 24th, 2017 08:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jun. 25th, 2017 03:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pasha1980 - Jun. 25th, 2017 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - romanklimenko - Jun. 22nd, 2017 02:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
creaze
Jun. 22nd, 2017 01:45 pm (UTC)
It sounds like a perfect world question.... i'm sorry, stupid as it sounds from a wiseguy like me, i'd consult an experienced lawyer, what the world practice of justice has ever done is similar cases.

The only "revolutionary" thought that comes to my mind is introduce a generic concept of "annoyance" into law practice. As in, abuse of public courtesy rules. In this case the boy only needed to have responded once to any of her text something like "Dear Jane, thank you for you interest in my death. Unfortunately, committing suicide at this time might pose a negative impact on my other ongoing projects, like living. So all i can offer you right now is take a broader look at the market, i'm sure that somebody else is dying to die for you, but please STOP ASKING ME TO KILL MYSELF". And all subsequent requests will be a felony.

What's more, with a law like that we can finally sue tv channels for ad breaks!
peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 01:52 pm (UTC)
"Experienced lawyer" - sure, they are always needed. However, case law, statutes, etc. cannot keep pace with the rapid rise of cyber-bullying. So, there is not much to go on. Laws are only recently being enacted, and the jurisprudence will develop rather quickly moving forward as a result. But this case is at the forefront, setting the precedent for others in the future...so we must wait and see how legislation changes, as society does also. It is seemingly impossible to keep up with the evils of humanity. :(
qi_tronic
Jun. 22nd, 2017 01:46 pm (UTC)
I think in Russia there's special law for this case:

ru. wikipedia. org/wiki/%D0%94%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%B5_%D0%B4%D0%BE_%D1%81%D0%B0%D0%BC%D0%BE%D1%83%D0%B1%D0%B8%D0%B9%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%B0

See also this:

lenta. ru/news/2017/06/08/deathgroup/

peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 01:53 pm (UTC)
I don't grasp the function of the "Deathgroup" referenced in that article?
(no subject) - qi_tronic - Jun. 22nd, 2017 02:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jun. 22nd, 2017 02:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - pro100_petrov - Jun. 22nd, 2017 02:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
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seadevil001
Jun. 22nd, 2017 02:04 pm (UTC)
In the Soviet Union used to be article in criminal law - "bring (force) somebody to suicide". It was used rarely though but still. Actually it is still in a law:
http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_10699/bddefeedee59e3a0cd80ee378c510bee13dabeb0/

It list "threats, cruel treatment or systematic humiliation of human dignity of the victim" - as actions - causes which will be punishable.

BTW there also abandonment in face of danger:
http://www.consultant.ru/document/cons_doc_LAW_10699/abd56fe2fb70b6c813e178ecf6148dda63010a1c/

This is definitely applicable.
peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 02:09 pm (UTC)
Well, this is a whole other legal topic for discussion - whether there should a duty to act, or intervene to save a stranger. Thanks for the links, it is informative to read the language of some Russian laws, and interesting for me as a lawyer.
(no subject) - seadevil001 - Jun. 22nd, 2017 02:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
kichiro_sora
Jun. 22nd, 2017 02:39 pm (UTC)
If she send thousands texts, to a guy with known mental proplems. and listen to him dying on the phone without calling for help - then yes. She's a sociopath, who needs to be punished for her actions.

I see little difference here with adult telling little kid to go and do something that will knowingly kill him. Free will BS doesn't apply here.
peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 02:44 pm (UTC)
Agree punishment is warranted, but what should it be?
(no subject) - kichiro_sora - Jun. 22nd, 2017 02:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jun. 22nd, 2017 02:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kichiro_sora - Jun. 22nd, 2017 02:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
pin_gwin
Jun. 22nd, 2017 03:48 pm (UTC)
Casey Antony - 2.
They already told you about Soviet/Russian law on pushing to suicide. If there are no such law in US, it needs to be addressed. There would be more use of sitting gang of senator's Politburo too preoccupied with short term politics which they are so proud of.
At my take, she should stay behind the bars maximum term of all applicable charges. It was at her full power to prevent this death, instead she pushed him to the end. She is destructively heartless and should be insulated.
In general, it's a humanity what she is missing. A boy may annoy a girl, he may be ridiculous, it does not mean he deserves to be destroyed. Also, she is 20, it's a level of mental maturity that boys are commonly getting to around 24-25, while he was 18...

Edited at 2017-06-22 04:07 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 04:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Casey Antony - 2.
Of course, he does not deserve to be destroyed for simply being annoying. But at what point must he take responsibility for himself, end the destructive and abusive relationship, block her attempts at contact, etc.? No doubt she is heartless, but there are plenty of such people walking the Earth...it seems there is not enough space or confinement to house them all.
Re: Casey Antony - 2. - pin_gwin - Jun. 22nd, 2017 04:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Casey Antony - 2. - peacetraveler22 - Jun. 22nd, 2017 04:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Casey Antony - 2. - pin_gwin - Jun. 22nd, 2017 04:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
sov0k
Jun. 22nd, 2017 04:07 pm (UTC)
There is no such thing as free will.

http://sov0k.dreamwidth.org/61467.html

Edited at 2017-06-22 04:09 pm (UTC)
peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 04:21 pm (UTC)
I do not have time to watch these videos - summarize his message, please. :)
(no subject) - sov0k - Jun. 22nd, 2017 05:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jun. 22nd, 2017 06:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
no_xit
Jun. 22nd, 2017 05:43 pm (UTC)

As far as I know, there has been a crime called "incitement to suicide" in the Russian law for a long time. Is it a crime? Yes, I believe it is.

peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 05:45 pm (UTC)
Many people brought this Russian law to my attention, I did not know it existed. I'm not aware of any such laws in the USA...
ottonturk_g
Jun. 22nd, 2017 06:54 pm (UTC)
I think that lawyer and judge - are criminals. They blame her because it helps them to stay at position and to lure public hateness into one direction. But no oen care - that killing yourself is only your choice. ay be guy was crazy or his parents were ascholes...
So i think judge is a bulshit and i hope her parents kil him for thius stupid prosecusion. I hope she leaves USA in one day.
She was unhappy to be in relations with weak men. If he was a men...
Even if it was her wine - she could in stress text something like kill your self and don't touch me i'm tird - but she could also kill herself with the same reason .
I suggest to send a text to judge to ask him to die..
peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 08:31 pm (UTC)
Public hateness - you sympathize with the woman? Why? Just because a man suffers from mental problems, does not make him "weak." There are many causes for this, some of them relate to chemical imbalances beyond a person's control.
(no subject) - ottonturk_g - Jun. 22nd, 2017 08:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
kremlin_curant
Jun. 22nd, 2017 08:13 pm (UTC)
Can't figure out the weight of the girls culpability. Let's talk about Russia, Peacewalker, I mean Traveler.
peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 08:29 pm (UTC)
What about Russia? :) I have not traveled there in several years, and don't follow local news very much. Politics is not a real interest of mine. If I have something new to say about the country, I will write it. :)

Edited at 2017-06-22 08:32 pm (UTC)
evalex
Jun. 22nd, 2017 10:05 pm (UTC)

TL;DR

murder by sms?

In each case when a boy threats ex-girlfriend to end to his life and she tells "go to hell" we should put her at trial?

I believe it will be overruled in supreme courts

peacetraveler22
Jun. 22nd, 2017 10:10 pm (UTC)
TL;DR...what dies this mean??
(no subject) - evalex - Jun. 22nd, 2017 10:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peacetraveler22 - Jun. 22nd, 2017 10:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - evalex - Jun. 22nd, 2017 10:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
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