BOSTON — Michelle Carter was released from jail this week after serving 11 months for the texting-suicide case of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III.
Carter’s parole conditions outline she cannot profit from the publicity of her case in any way for the next two years, but what happens after that?
Currently, there are no laws in Massachusetts restricting criminals from profiting off their crimes and any legislation proposed to change that has been struck down on the basis that it infringes on free speech rights.
A Son of Sam law is a term designated for any kind of legislation designed to prohibit criminals from making money off their stories, such as penning a book or selling their rights to publishers or media companies.
The original law was proposed in the state of New York, but was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. However, New York and other states have passed similar legislation that complies with the court’s decision.
Aimed at notorious serial killer David Berkowitz, who went by the name “Son of Sam” during his murder spree in 1970s New York, the law was originally designed with Berkowitz’s intense media presence in mind. Widespread speculation wondered whether Berkowitz would end up selling his story to a writer or a filmmaker, and although he denied he’d take any kind of deal, the state quickly passed preemptive legislation anyways.
When it comes to Michelle Carter’s case, it’s undeniable she’s now internationally known for telling Conrad to “get back in” his truck as it filled up with deadly carbon monoxide, knowing it’d cause his death. Carter also exchanged a long series of text messages with Conrad, encouraging him to carry out his plan to kill himself and even helping him come up with ideas on how to do it.
Much alike what happened with Berkowitz, there is now speculation that Carter, given the high interest in her case by both the media and viewers, would want to profit off her publicity.
The fact that there is no existing legislation that would bar her from doing so after her probation is over is a legal situation that angers victim’s rights advocates.
“It’s very unfortunate that that’s the way it falls,” said Sean Alyward, the brother of Groveland murder victim Beth Brodie. “Victims are often left out of the story. It’s not fair for both sides. One side doesn’t have their voice anymore and the offender side does."
Boston Attorney Phillip Tracy explains why courts cite the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech as the main reason why such laws haven’t been passed in the state.
“We can’t infringe, it’s what the founding father said, no matter how bad we think that person is, and abhorrent it is for that person to potentially gain money, there’s just no way we can start the slippery slope down where we say this is free speech, this isn’t free speech,” said Tracy.
Alyward says he can’t even fathom the pain he’d be in if his sister’s convicted killer managed to sell the story of his sister’s murder to the highest bidder.
“I think it’s crazy to let the offenders think they can get away with this,” said Alyward. “I suppose it’s important that everybody have their First Amendment right and they get to tell their story. But the victim does not. The victim can’t tell their story.”
Currently, there are no proposals to pass any kind of legal statue in Massachusetts that prohibit criminals from profiting off their stories. After August 1, 2022, there is no legal obstacle in Carter’s way if she chooses to do so.
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