Emotions ran high last week as Michelle Carter was sentenced to prison under Massachusetts’ manslaughter law for encouraging her boyfriend to kill himself, which he did. Under the apparent facts of the case, she overcame with words her boyfriend’s reluctance to kill himself due to her crazed need for attention. What would happen if something similar happened in Texas?
Section 19.04 of the Texas Penal Code defines manslaughter as “(a) A person commits an offense if he recklessly causes the death of an individual. So, one must recklessly cause the death of another. But what is reckless? Under section 6.03(c), “A person acts recklessly, or is reckless, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he is aware of but consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that its disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor’s standpoint.” We normally liken recklessness to intentionally driving a car well above the speed limit through a neighborhood. There is a known risk that something bad is likely to happen. Thus, a person encouraging suicide could be convicted of manslaughter and face 2-20 in prison if she recklessly caused the death of an individual through suicide. But how does encouraging simply alone CAUSE the death of another, when the individual’s own acts are what actually results in his death? This is where the Texas law gets narrow on the issue. Section 6.04 of the Penal Code defines causation as “(a) A person is criminally responsible if the result would not have occurred but for his conduct, operating either alone or concurrently with another cause, unless the concurrent cause was clearly sufficient to produce the result and the conduct of the actor clearly insufficient.”