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What Is Involuntary Intoxication, And Did It Cause Michelle Carter To Encourage Her Boyfriend's Suicide?
"I Love You Now, Die" chronicles the disturbing texting suicide case, which sent Michelle Carter to prison.
By now, you’ve probably heard of the Massachusetts teen (now a woman) Michelle Carter. If not by name, well, you probably recognize her face or simply some of the details of her troubling story.
Just in case, here’s a rundown: Carter became infamous after it came out that she encouraged her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to commit suicide in 2014. The pair repeatedly discussed death methods over text and days before he died by suicide, the then-17-year-old Carter was relentless in her pro-suicide texts to him. He ended up dying after he filled up his truck with carbon monoxide. She supposedly told him to get back in the truck after he expressed doubts to her, according to a text she later sent her friend.
The texts exchanged between the teens were used in court and led to Carter's involuntary manslaughter conviction in 2017.
HBO's new documentary, "I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter," chronicles the disturbing case. The documentary also asks questions about Carter’s grasp on reality at the time, with some arguing that she shouldn't be held responsible for her actions.
The Involuntary Intoxication Defense
“Both were victims of the psychiatric drugs,” Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist who testified in Carter’s trial (who has been very vocal about his dislike of psychiatric medication), claimed in the documentary.
During her trial, Breggin, who testified for the defense, argued that Carter was on medication that clouded her judgment and that she, too, was struggling with suicidal thoughts. He testified that she had an involuntary intoxication, which he defined in court as “an intoxication which means that the neurochemistry of the brain has been disrupted and that this intoxication is observable through thoughts, behaviors, activities. They involve, in general, things like impulsivity, impaired judgement.”
Breggin testified that Carter was taking Prozac for years before switching to Celexa three months before Roy died. He said that on July 2, “she begins to help him go to heaven" and claimed she genuinely thought she was helping him in doing so. In the past, Carter would apparently tell Roy to seek help when he mentioned suicide.
Roy died 11 days later on July 13.
“At this point, she has involuntary intoxication where she is not forming criminal intent to harm him,” he claimed. “She’s not doing something she thinks is criminal. This is bad. She’s thinking that it’s a good thing to help him die, that she can mitigate the circumstances, that she can then go and help his family and like anybody who’s in a hypomanic state, she gets very angry when she’s disrupted.”
A Harvard medical school piece describes hypomania “as a mood state or energy level that is elevated above normal, but not so extreme as to cause impairment — the most important characteristic distinguishing it from mania.”
Is involuntary intoxication real, though?
Dr. Anne Glowinski, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, disputed the existence of involuntary intoxication in the documentary, claiming it’s a diagnosis she and her colleagues never use. She said it is used in forensic psychiatry “without any consensus in our profession that it’s even real.”
She agreed yes, with some children and teens taking antidepressants, they can experience “disinhibiting” effects.
“I wouldn’t call it drastic but if you become manic when you’re on an antidepressant, that’s pretty drastic and that happens in a very small percentage of cases,” she explained.
Prosecutor Katie Rayburn also challenged Breggin’s diagnosis of Carter in court, noting that witnesses in the days before Roy’s death said she appeared put-together and well-spoken, all while pretending over text to her friends that Roy was missing. In reality, it would be days before he went missing and died. The prosecution referred to this as a test-run to see how her friends would react. Breggin said this helped support his theory, though.
“It’s very strange,” Bregginn testified. “I can’t find a rational reason why she would ever have been doing this. I think it’s part of a very confused, delusional state where she’s coming in and out of what’s happening.”
“How about the rational reason that she wanted to know how her friends would react when he killed himself?” Rayburn countered. She went on to claim that Carter's motivation was to get attention from her friends, who weren’t giving Carter the attention she wanted.
Breggin, however, maintained Carter was “psychotic,” “deluded” and “disturbed” as a result of the involuntary intoxication.
Carter was found responsible for her actions, though: She was sentenced to 15 months behind bars in 2017, time which she is currently serving. The conviction was upheld in Massachusetts' highest court earlier this year.
"I Love You, Now Die" airs July 9 and 10 on HBO.