Will the Definition of Involuntary Manslaughter Also Change in Virginia?
The story is a couple of weeks old now, but its relevance will linger for years. You might not have paid much attention to the story, but you might remember one image that the news networks kept showing us over and over again. As a guilty verdict is read, a woman cries in disbelief. That woman was Michelle Carter, and an important law has been redefined as a result of her case.
Earlier this month, Michelle Carter was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. She had urged her boyfriend to commit suicide and was found to be partially culpable when he went through with it. Admittedly, it is a horrible situation, but was it involuntary manslaughter? Should she be punished for the sins of another?
Involuntary Manslaughter in Massachusetts:
Legal experts have said that this case is about words and not actions. Carter’s words via text were the encouragement her boyfriend needed to commit suicide. In Massachusetts, this is a first. These same experts have said that there are two problems. First, manslaughter has only applied to actions until now. Second, there is no law in Massachusetts against encouraging someone to commit suicide.
Without that statute, this case was tried as involuntary manslaughter, and it ultimately succeeded. Regular readers of this blog know that legal cases sometimes work at the edges of laws, forcing everyone involved to have to interpret the best definitions for laws in order to see if they apply to each particular case. In Carter’s case, the law has dramatically expanded, and this is why some are worried.
Involuntary Manslaughter in Virginia:
In the Code of Virginia, involuntary manslaughter can be defined as operating a vehicle under the influence and unintentionally causing someone else’s death. More broadly, in order to convict someone of involuntary manslaughter, the Commonwealth must prove: (1) that the defendant killed a person, and (2) that the killing, although unintended, was the direct result of negligence so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a callous disregard of human life. Involuntary manslaughter is a Class 5 felony.
On a related note, the law against assisted suicide is clear to define the task as being something physical in nature. You must provide a physical means or participate in the physical act. Words alone cannot be considered assisted suicide. Could a similar case as Michelle Carter’s, however, be used in Virginia to redefine involuntary manslaughter in our state? It certainly seems possible, especially in light of Carter’s case. Now that her case has been successfully tried by Massachusetts prosecutors, it creates a precedent that other prosecutors can attempt to use in their own similar cases. Perhaps encouraging someone to kill themselves is enough.
This is part of the fight for defense attorneys across the nation. As prosecutors and legislators seek to expand the laws, defense attorneys fight for the rights of their clients so that the result is fair. In many cases, your defense attorney is your only hope. It is certainly the most important legal decision you have to make. If you need an experienced defense attorney, call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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