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Michelle Carter, Who Encouraged Her Boyfriend to Commit Suicide, Files Appeal With Supreme Court

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  • Michelle Carter, the Massachusets woman who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself in text messages and phone calls, has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court.
  • Her legal team argues that her conviction violated her constitutional rights to free speech and due process. 
  • According to the filing, Massachusetts is the only state to have upheld the conviction of a “physically absent defendant who encouraged another person to commit suicide with words alone.”

Supreme Court Appeal Filed 

Lawyers for Michelle Carter, the Massachusetts woman who was convicted last year for encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself in text messages and phone calls, are asking the United States Supreme Court to review her case.

The 22-year-old’s legal team filed a petition on Monday, asking the Court to consider, “the questions whether Carter’s conviction for involuntary manslaughter violated the U.S. Constitution.”

In the filing, Carter’s attorneys claim her conviction did so by violating her First Amendment right to freedom of speech and Fifth Amendment right to due process. 

The Death of Conrad Roy III 

In 2014, 18-year-old Conrad Roy III poisoned himself with carbon monoxide in a Kmart parking lot in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. After his death, investigators discovered that he had exchanged several text messages and phone calls with Carter, his then 17-year-old girlfriend, as he contemplated and attempted suicide. 

Messages showed that Carter encouraging him to do it. “I thought you wanted to do this. The time is right and you’re ready, you just need to do it! You can’t keep living this way,” one of several text messages to Roy read.

Carter even suggested ways for Roy to commit suicide. “Drink bleach. Why don’t you just drink bleach?” she asked in other messages found by investigators. “Hang yourself. Jump over a building, stab yourself, idk. There’s a lot of ways.”

According to prosecutors, Roy stepped out of his car as it filled with toxic fumes when he had second thoughts about what he was doing. Then Carter instructed him to return to the car.

In 2017, Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for her part in Roy’s death. Judge Lawrence Moniz of Bristol County said Carter’s “virtual presence” made her responsible for his death and she was sentenced to 15 months in jail. 

Her attorneys appealed the decision, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld her conviction in February. The court said it, “rejected the defendant’s claim that her words to the victim, without any physical act on her part and even without her physical presence at the scene, could not constitute wanton or reckless conduct sufficient to support a charge of manslaughter.”

Carter was then required to begin serving her sentence following the verdict.

Free Speech & Due Process Arguments 

“Michelle Carter did not cause Conrad Roy’s tragic death and should not be held criminally responsible for his suicide,” said attorney Daniel Marx of Fick & Marx LLP.

“This petition focuses on just two of the many flaws in the case against her that raise important federal constitutional issues for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide.”

In their filing to the Supreme Court, Carter’s legal team says her conviction was “based on words alone” and violated her First Amendment right to free speech. They argue that Carter’s communications with Roy, “did not constitute speech that was ‘an integral part of conduct in violation of a valid criminal statute.’” 

The team goes on to say that her case shows an “urgent need” for the Supreme Court to clarify “that narrow category of unprotected speech.”

Along with this, Carter’s lawyers also claim that the conviction was an arbitrary enforcement of assisted suicide laws that violated her right to due process. “As applied to assist or encouraging suicide with words alone, the common law on involuntary manslaughter violates due process because neither Carter nor any prior precedent has established meaningful guidance to prevent arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

According to the filing, Massachusetts is the only state to have upheld the conviction of a “physically absent defendant who encouraged another person to commit suicide with words alone.”

“Before this case, no state had interpreted its common law or enacted an assisted suicide statute to criminalize such “pure speech,” and no other defendant had been convicted for encouraging another person to take his own life where the defendant neither provided the actual means of death nor physically participated in the suicide,” the filing states. 

Monday was the last day for Carter to file an appeal to the Supreme Court, but it is unclear if the Court will take the case.

HBO Documentary

The filing came the day before an HBO documentary on Carter titled “I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter.” The documentary, which first premiered at this year’s South by Southwest Festival, will air in two installments on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org. You can also text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US from the Crisis Text Line.

See what others are saying: (Fox News) (The Boston Globe) (The Washington Post)

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Pennsylvania School District Threatens Foster Care Placement Over Lunch Debt

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  • A Pennsylvania school district sent letters to over three dozen parents who had accumulated a school meal debt of $10 or more, warning them to pay the balance or risk having their child placed in foster care.
  • The local social services agency criticized the school for “weaponizing” the foster care system to scare families into paying lunch bills.
  • The president of the district’s board of education said the letters may have been strong, but they worked. 
  • Meanwhile, the vice president of the school board said the letters were not approved by the superintendent and is calling a meeting to discuss the issue, but said future letters will be less threatening.  

Debt Letter Sent 

A Pennsylvania school district faced backlash for sending letters to parents this month, warning them to pay off their children’s school lunch debt otherwise they may face consequences that could result in their child being placed in foster care. 

“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch,” the letter from Joseph Muth, director of federal programs for the Wyoming Valley West School District, read.

“This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child’s right to food. If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care.” the letter continued.

Wyoming West Valley School District – The New York Times

The letters were sent out to those with a balance of at least $10 or more.

Outrage Over Foster Care Threat 

Parents in Luzerne County did not respond well to the threat from the school district and the letter soon made national headlines. But the mention of foster care also pulled Luzerne County Children and Youth Services into the issue.

“The Luzerne County Children and Youth Foster Care System is NOT utilized to scare families into paying school lunch bills,” Joanne Van Saun, director of the local agency, wrote in a letter to the district’s superintendent. 

“We exist to protect and preserve families. The only time a child is taken out is when they cannot be maintained safely in their home,” she later told CNN. “Our agency has helped many children and families with paying rent and buying clothes. We know children do better when they’re with their families.”

Van Saun added that she felt “blindsided” by the district’s letter, especially since the district and the agency have had a good relationship with one another in the past. “The way they handled it was totally inappropriate, unnecessary and could’ve easily been resolved through so many different avenues.” she said. 

C. David Pedri, Luzerne county manager, also wrote the district a letter complaining about the notice.“It weaponizes Luzerne County’s foster care system,” Pedri said on Saturday in a statement to The New York Times. “It’s exactly what we’re not here to do. The foster care system is here to help kids who are abused.”

“Taking a kid out of a house is one of the most extreme things that a foster care system has ever tried to do,” he added. “So you don’t do it lightly. We would never take a kid out of a house for failing to pay a school lunch bill.”

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey even called the letters “callous,” adding, “No child should have to imagine the horror of being ripped away from their parents because their family is struggling economically.” 

Mixed Responses From Officials

According to CNN, Wyoming Valley’s Cafeteria Purchase Charging and Insufficient Funds Policy says nothing about parents potentially going to court or losing their children. However, it does state that families with a student account that reaches negative $10 or more will receive “an automated call every Friday” until the remaining balance is paid. 

After being identified by WNEP as the person who penned the letter, Joseph Muth told the news station that it was a “last resort” effort to deal with the roughly $22,000 in debt that the district had accumulated. 

Joseph Mazur, the president of the district’s board of education, told NPR that the district had tried contacting parents by mail, email, robocalls, and personal calls, before the notice, but nothing worked. 

Mazur then defended the letter saying: “I think you have to pay your bills. I mean, I’ve been paying my bills all my life. So has everybody else. I mean sometimes you have to do without something for yourself if you want to raise your kids and see that they’re taken care of.”

“We are in the process of trying to save money wherever we can. We have laid off some employees. We have reduced some of our curriculum. And we’re looking anywhere we can save,” Mazur said. “I don’t care if it’s $1,000 or $20,000.”

Mazur did note that all students in the district received a meal. “Every poor kid got a meal,” Mazur said. “If the Board of Directors was mean and cruel they’d just honestly say, ‘stop the lunches,’ but we didn’t.”

“Was the letter a little strong? Maybe yes,” Mazur added. “But it did work, because they’re paid now.”

However, David Usavage, vice president of the school board, told the Times on Saturday that he received about six phone calls complaining about the letter. He also added that when he first read the notice, he thought it was a “joke.”

The letter “was not approved by anyone,” Usavage said. “We have a policy that says everything should go through the superintendent.”

It is not uncommon for the district to mail letters to parents, asking them to pay debts, but the language has always been “softer,” he said.

Usavage explained that the notice was written by Muth and the district’s lawyer, Charles R Coslett. Usavage said Muth has since apologized over the notice, but did not release any information about potential consequences for the two. 

Usavage also provided the Times with more information about the district’s debt, saying that the district, which is made up of seven different schools, serves school meals that cost between $1 to $2.70 to about 5,000 children.

“We have never denied anyone because they don’t have money,” he said. “We would never, ever allow a child to go hungry.”

However, Usavage said that 960 students had accumulated a debt of five cents up to $9.99. Parents of 40 children owed $10 or more and parents of four students owed more than $440. 

For now, Usavage said he would call a special meeting with the school board to discuss the issue, but said future letters will be less threatening.

“I don’t want the people who live in the Wyoming Valley West School District to think we are so classless as to send out a letter threatening parents,” he said. “I can assure you we will not take one child or one parent to any kind of court to get back the money.”

For the coming school year, the district will qualify for funding to provide free lunches to all students. regardless of their family’s financial need. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (NPR)

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NJ Judge Who Spared Teen Accused of Rape Because He Was From a “Good Family” Steps Down

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  • New Jersey Judge James Troiano has resigned after facing criticism for ruling that a teenage boy accused of rape should not be tried as an adult because he was from a “good family” and had good grades.
  • An appellate court overturned the ruling and made the decision public, prompting widespread outrage, protests, and numerous lawmakers to call for Troiano’s resignation. It was also reported that Troiano and his family received threats of violence.
  • Troiano’s resignation was announced by the state’s Supreme Court, which also said that they were starting the proceedings to remove Judge John Russo, who asked a woman if she had closed her legs to try to prevent an alleged sexual assault.
  • The state’s Supreme Court has ordered a new initiative to enhance the training of judges in the areas of sexual assault, implicit bias, and more.

Judge Troiano Steps Down

A New Jersey judge who recommended that a 16-year-old boy accused of rape get leniency because he was from a “good family” resigned, according to an order from the New Jersey Supreme Court issued Wednesday.

In 2018, Monmouth County Judge James Troiano denied a waiver that would have allowed the teenage boy to be tried as an adult.

The teenager was accused of raping an intoxicated girl at a party, recording it, and then sending the recording to multiple people with the caption “when your first time is rape.”

Troiano argued that the defendant should not be tried as an adult because he had good grades and was from a good family. 

He also said he did not think the incident was a “traditional case of rape,” which he defined as “two or more generally males involved, either at gunpoint or weapon, clearly manhandling a person.”

Troiano’s decision was later overturned by an appellate court, which made the ruling public in June.

Troiano has already been retired since 2012, but had continued to hear cases part-time. According to the order from the New Jersey Supreme Court, Troiano requested to step down effective immediately, and the court agreed.

Protests & Calls for Resignation

After Troiano’s decision was made public, he was met with widespread criticism and condemnation.

Numerous elected officials in New Jersey called for Troiano to resign or be removed from the bench, and petitions calling for his impeachment were circulated.

It was also reported that Troiano and his family had received phone calls and emails threatening violence. According to The New York Times, Troiano also received death threats.

On July 11, protestors gathered outside the Monmouth County Courthouse to call for the resignation of Troiano and Judge Marcia Silva, who ruled that a 16-year-old boy accused of assaulting a 12-year-old girl should not be tried as an adult because the “offense is not an especially heinous or cruel offense.”

Silva’s decision was overturned by the same appellate court.

Judge John Russo 

The state’s Supreme Court also announced that it was beginning proceedings to remove Judge John Russo, who asked an alleged victim if she had closed her legs to try to prevent being sexually assaulted.

“Because of the seriousness of the ethical violations here, it is appropriate for the Court to consider the full range of potential discipline, up to and including removal from office,” Justice Stuart Rabner, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey wrote in the order.

According to NBC News, the state’s Supreme Court is seeking a harsher punishment for Russo after a judicial ethics commission recommended three-month unpaid suspension earlier this year.

Russo has said he was just trying to get more information from the alleged victim. 

NBC also reported that Russo had been reassigned to another county court in December, and will have until next month to contest his removal in front of a panel of state Supreme Court judges.

He will be suspended without pay during the process.

Officials Respond

New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy released a statement on Wednesday applauding the state Supreme Court’s decision.

“Unfortunately, the inexcusable actions of several judges over recent months have threatened this reputation for thoughtful and reasoned opinion, and common decency,” Murphy said. “I am gratified that Judge Troiano will no longer sit on the bench and that removal proceedings will begin against Judge Russo.”

However, last week, New Jersey’s top public defender, Joseph Krakora, defended Troiano and Silva in a rare public statement.

“Vilifying or seeking the removal of judges who make unpopular or even erroneous decisions threatens the independence of the judiciary,” he said. “Judges are simply lawyers entrusted with the responsibility of deciding difficult cases.” 

“Litigants sometimes feel that their decisions are incorrect or unfair. That is why we have appellate courts,” he continued.

The New Jersey Supreme Court also ordered a new initiative Wednesday to improve how judges are trained to address sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as diversity and implicit bias.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (USA Today)

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Berkeley To Remove Gendered Language From City Code

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  • The City Council voted unanimously to replace more than two dozen terms often used in the city’s municipal code with gender-neutral words.
  • Along with changing “he” and “she” pronouns to “they” and “them,” the move will also swap words like “manholes” with “maintenance holes,” and tiles like “firemen” with “firefighters.”
  • Local officials say the move is necessary to make “the environment of City Hall and the language of city legislation consistent with the principles of inclusion.

Inclusive Language

The Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a measure on Tuesday that would replace more than two dozen gender-specific words from its municipal code in a move towards improving nonbinary gender inclusivity. 

The ordinance on gender-neutral language will replace words like “he” an “she” to “they” and “them” in the city code. But it will also do away words like “manholes,” “manmade,” and “manpower.” Instead, “manholes” will be changed to “maintenance holes” and other references to “manmade” will be changed to “artificial.” Terms like “human effort” or “workforce” will replace “manpower.”

Other terms that will be changed include “pregnant women”, which will be switched to “pregnant employees.” “Brother” and “sister” will be switched to a “sibling.”

Job titles like “bondsman” will be “bonds-person,” “firemen” and “firewomen” will now be “firefighters.”

“Fraternity” and “sorority” soon be changed to “collegiate Greek system residence,” along with several other changes.  

The City of Berkeley

Why? 

Berkeley city councilmember Rigel Robinson, a 23-year-old recent graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, sponsored the ordinance in March. “In recent years, broadening societal awareness of transgender and gendernonconforming identities has brought to light the importance of non-binary gender inclusivity,” Robinson’s ordinance reads. 

“Therefore, it is both timely and necessary to make the environment of City Hall and the language of city legislation consistent with the principles of inclusion.”

“Having a male-centric municipal code is inaccurate and not reflective of our reality,” Robinson later told The Washington Post via email.

The move still requires a second reading at the council for the proposal to become official. That will then be followed by a 30-day waiting period. However, based on Tuesday’s unanimous vote, the language change is expected to easily pass through the remainder of the process.

“There is power in language. This is a small move, but it matters,” Robinson tweeted after the ordinance was approved.

Robinson’s office estimates that it will cost about $600 to implement the change to the municipal code. 

Similar Changes

The move is not surprising for Berkeley. The city has implemented similar changes in the past in an effort to make the community more inclusive. In February, the city began giving all employees the option to receive a name badge with a preferred pronoun printed alongside their professional title.

Other efforts to improve inclusivity have also made waves across the state. In 2014, then-Governor Jerry Brown approved a measure that replaced “husband” or “wife” in state law with “spouse.” 

Then in 2017, California became the first state to provide a third gender option on state driver’s licenses, identification cards, and birth certificates with the passage of Senate Bill 179. 

California is not alone in that move. Maine and Washington D.C. have also made efforts to recognize gender-neutral individuals on drivers licenses. 

See what others are saying: (Fox News) (CBS News) (Los Angeles Times) 



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