GF texts BF to kill self; court finds her guilty

For Gibbs Abubakar

Hours ago, Michelle Carter was found guilty by court presided by Judge Lawrence Moniz. BBC reports, "Michelle Carter, now 20, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for her messages to 18-year-old Conrad Roy urging him to kill himself."

In short, what she did was that she texted her boyfriend and urged her to kill himself. He did and she was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. FindLaw explains, "Involuntary manslaughter usually refers to an unintentional killing that results from recklessness or criminal negligence, or from an unlawful act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony (such as a DUI). The usual distinction from voluntary manslaughter is that involuntary manslaughter (sometimes called "criminally negligent homicide") is a crime in which the victim's death is unintended."

Based on this definition given by FindLaw, we can conclude that involuntary manslaughter in the United States is comparable to that of criminal negligence under the Revised Penal Code (RPC; Act 3815). Michelle Carter's criminal conviction, were the act within the Philippine jurisdiction, would be equivalent to "Reckless Imprudence or Negligence Resulting in Homicide."

Under Article 365 of the RPC, "Any person who, by reckless imprudence, shall commit any act which, had it been intentional, would constitute a grave felony, shall suffer the penalty of arresto mayor in its maximum period to prision correccional in its medium period; if it would have constituted a less grave felony, the penalty of arresto mayor in its minimum and medium periods shall be imposed; if it would have constituted a light felony, the penalty of arresto menor in its maximum period shall be imposed."

As a general principle in criminal law, a crime has three (3) elements: malice, intelligence and intent. However, when it comes to criminal negligence, malice is absent, replaced by imprudence or negligence.

Without Article 365 of the RPC, it would be difficult to find criminal liablity in Michelle Carter for her act of texting Conrad Roy and urging him to commit suicide, which he did. Ordinarily, as provided by Article 4 of the RPC, "Criminal liability shall be incurred: By any person committing a felony (delito) although the wrongful act done be different from that which he intended. [xxx]"

Since her act of texting was not a crime, Michelle Carter's case does not come within the purview of Article 4. She cannot be, ordinarily, held liable for the resulting crime. However, since Article 365 punishes criminal negligence or imprudence, that is, an act which, had it been intentional, would constitute a crime, Philippine courts, with proof beyond reasonable doubt, may validly find him guilty for what she has done.

However, the biggest struggle here would be the question of whether or not Michelle Carter should be held liable for urging Conrad Roy to commit suicide. This is an important aspect of this case since suicide is not a crime in Philippine criminal law. Urging people to do something that is not a crime is not a punishable wrong. It may be an actionable wrong but only within the four corners of civil courts.

Reckless imprudence, on the other hand, consists of voluntarily doing or failing to do, without malice, an act from which material damage results by reason of an inexcusable lack of precaution on the part of the person performing or failing to perform such act. (G.R. No. 192123; March 10, 2014) Reckless imprudence that results in death or damage to property is punishable under the RPC. Nevertheless, simple imprudence is also pushed when it results in the same.

In 1955, Justice Reyes gave explanation on the concept of criminal negligence. "In international crimes, the act itself is punished; in negligence or imprudence, what is principally penalized is the mental attitude or condition behind the act, the dangerous recklessness, lack of care or foresight, the imprudencia punible. Much of the confusion has arisen from the common use of such descriptive phrases as "homicide through reckless imprudence," and the like; when the strict technical offense is, more accurately, "reckless imprudence resulting in homicide"; or "simple imprudence causing damages to property."" (G.R. No. L-6641; July 28, 1955)In 2014, Justice Peralta, in a case of medical malpractice, wrote another explanation on Article 365 of the RPC.

"Among the elements constitutive of reckless imprudence, what perhaps is most central to a finding of guilt is the conclusive determination that the accused has exhibited, by his voluntary act without malice, an inexcusable lack of precaution. It is that which supplies the criminal intent so indispensable as to bring an act of mere negligence and imprudence under the operation of the penal law. This is because a conscious indifference to the consequences of the conduct is all that is required from the standpoint of the frame of mind of the accused. Quasi-offenses penalize the mental attitude or condition behind the act, the dangerous recklessness, the lack of care or foresight, the "imprudencia punible," unlike willful offenses which punish the intentional criminal act. This is precisely where this Court found Dr. Ynzon to be guilty of - his seemingly indifference to the deteriorating condition of JR that he as a consequence, failed to exercise lack of precaution which eventually led to JR's death." (G.R. No. 163879; July 30, 2014)

"To be sure, whether or not a physician has committed an "inexcusable lack of precaution" in the treatment of his patient is to be determined according to the standard of care observed by other members of the profession in good standing under similar circumstances bearing in mind the advanced state of the profession at the time of treatment or the present state of medical science. In accepting a case, a doctor in effect represents that, having the needed training and skill possessed by physicians and surgeons practicing in the same field, he will employ such training, care and skill in the treatment of his patients. He, therefore, has a duty to use at least the same level of care that any other reasonably competent doctor would use to treat a condition under the same circumstances. Sadly, Dr. Ynzon did not display that degree of care and precaution demanded by the circumstances." (G.R. No. 163879; July 30, 2014)

UPDATE (June 17, 2017; 5:56PM): Mr. Michael Alzona expressed the view that Michelle Carter can neither be prosecutor nor convicted of the crime of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide. He argued, "After much analysis, mainly on the elucidation provided [in] the medical malpractice [case penned by] Justice Peralta, the act of texting somebody to commit suicide involves participatory negligence [on the part of] the victim. That said, [Michelle Carter] cannot be prosecuted and, much more, be convicted of criminal negligence because the resulting injury is not solely attributable to [her]."

Mr. Alzona furthered, "By contrast, in the [above-]cited medical malpractice case, it was the sole responsibility of the negligent doctor and the deceased never performed any act to contribute to the cause of his death. In Michelle Carter's case, death resulted [in death] without [Michelle Carter] giving any physical action and, thus, [this case] is completely different from the doctor's case. Another point, in criminal negligence, the victim has no choice but to bear the result of the reckless imprudence of the doer. Here, the victim [had] a choice. [Also,] he made a terrible choice of killing himself and we cannot make someone liable for the choice and actions of another under the guise of reckless imprudence."