How a 200-Year-Old Massachusetts Court Case Impacted the Michelle Carter Verdict

A 200-year-old case in Massachusetts is back in the news after it was referred to by the juvenile court judge who found a woman guilty of encouraging her boyfriend to commit suicide through text messages.

Twenty-year-old Michelle Carter was found guilty Friday of involuntary manslaughter in connection to the July 2014 death of 18-year-old Conrad Roy III. She was 17 at the time of her boyfriend's death.

During his verdict delivery Friday morning, Judge Lawrence Moniz mentioned the 1816 case of Commonwealth v. Bowen, where a man was found guilty of encouraging a fellow inmate to hang himself ahead of his execution. The court found in this case that "where one counseled [sic] another to commit suicide, who by reason of his advice, and in his presence, did so, the adviser was guilty of murder."

Massachusetts School of Law Dean Michael Coyne said it's not uncommon for present-day courts to look at old rulings and apply them to modern cases. However, he said these kinds of applications can sometimes end with a "sloppy" result.

"The problem is that technology has vast out-paced existing laws, especially with respect to the assisted-suicide" cases, he said.

Carter will be back in Taunton District Court on Aug. 3 for her sentencing.

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