Northeastern Law Team Takes the Lead in Crafting and Advocating for Conrad’s Law
11.12.19 — A Northeastern Law team of faculty, students and graduates will be watching closely as lawmakers in Massachusetts debate “Conrad’s Law,” a bill that would make coerced suicide a crime. The Northeastern team played a significant role in crafting the law and bringing it to the attention of the Statehouse. Massachusetts is one of only eight states across the country that does not have a law targeting this kind of pressure.
“I was troubled by prosecutors charging the Michelle Carter case as manslaughter; it felt like using a hammer when a scalpel was required,” said Professor Daniel Medwed, who helped draft Conrad’s Law. A legal analyst for WGBH, Medwed has frequently commented that the charge of manslaughter was not a specific enough charge in the case of Michelle Carter, who encouraged Conrad Roy III to commit suicide. “I expressed this view publicly and that led Conrad Roy’s family to reach out to me to draft a coerced suicide bill under his name.”
In drafting the bill, Medwed was assisted by law student research assistants Sarah Canapari ’20 and Alexandra Lancey ’20. With the help of another student, MaryRose Mazzola ’21, who is currently chief of staff to Senator Barry Finegold, the team convinced Finegold to introduce the bill in partnership with State Representative Natalie Higgins ’14, also a Northeastern Law graduate.
The bill calls for codifying coerced suicide as a separate crime, punishable by up to five years in prison. It would make it a crime if someone knows about another person’s “propensity for suicidal ideation” and then “intentionally coerces or encourages that person to commit or attempt to commit suicide.” The bill also criminalizes the actions of anyone who “provides the physical means, or knowledge of such means” to another person for the purpose of enabling them to die by suicide. The measure has an exception for medical treatment and physicians.
“As a former defense lawyer, I have seldom if ever advocated for expanding the criminal code but felt it was needed here because of concerns about prosecutorial overreaching, fears that these incidents might increase in the age of cyber bullying and a desire to craft a narrow statute that only applies to egregious cases where a person intentionally coerced someone they knew to be suicidal into acting on those tendencies,” said Medwed, author of Prosecution Complex: America’s Race to Convict and Its Impact on the Innocent.
The bill has already won praise from The Boston Globe’s editorial board, which wrote that it would “set out clearly what suicide coercion is — and, just as important, what it’s not.” Medwed testified before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee about the bill on November 12; a vote should come sometime in the spring.
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