Last month, on March 14, 11-year old Tysen Benz read text messages saying that his 13-year-old girl friend had committed suicide. In apparent grief, the 11-year-old boy from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula hanged himself. In reality, the girl had sent the fake news as a joke. Or as a cruel trick. Or because she was 13.
In the Shakespeare play, to fake her death Juliet took a sleeping potion that made her seem dead. (They didn’t have text messaging then.)
Now, if this was really “Romeo and Juliet,” Juliet would have killed herself too after learning that her boyfriend was dead. Instead, she is facing criminal charges. Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese says that she is responsible for Tysen’s death, so he is charging her with malicious use of telecommunication service, punishable by up to six months in juvenile detention. He is also charging “Juliet” with using a computer to commit a crime, which carries a sentence of up to a year.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…
Is this a fair, just and ethical prosecution?
My answer: no, no, and no.
It’s an abuse of power, position and process, just like this case, from 2013, when Florida law enforcement officers arrested a teen and a 12-year old after their cruel Facebook posts prompted a sensitive girl to take her own life. I got it then and I get it now; the idea is to scare kids, let them know that cyber-bullying and cruel hoaxes designed to cause emotional distress are dangerous and wrong, and that there will be consequences. That’s a good intention, now welcome to hell.
As I wrote in the earlier case,
“But cruel and mean comments, on Facebook or anywhere else, are not criminal acts; they are constitutional speech. The legal system is supposed to be responsible and dispassionate, and not impulsively arrest people it doesn’t like or the community doesn’t like, twist the laws to teach kids a lesson, or make up crimes as it sees fit after the imaginary crimes were committed.”
This prosecution, incredibly, is worse. There is no evidence, as far as we know, that the girl was doing anything but playing a cruel joke on someone she cared about. There was no mens rea, no desire to harm. Who would expect a child to kill himself like that? Unless Tysen had credibly told the girl, “If anything happened to you, I’d kill myself,” there is no way she can be found to have committed a crime. Maybe there is a viable civil case, though I doubt it. If we are going to find children legally liable for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress, everyone will spend their teen years in court.
I think it is fair to say that the girl involved is devastated by Tysen’s death. Who knows, though…maybe a prosecution and the predictable cyber-hate coming her way will provoke her to commit suicide too. Then we’ll really have Romeo and Juliet 2017, and maybe a TV movie.
If that’s the objective, Matt Wiese is certainly doing his best to make it happen.
Pointer: Arthur in Maine
21 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Prosecuting Juliet In “Romeo And Juliet 2017””
In my opinion, the unforeseeability of the suicide in question is dispositive. a 33-year-old civilian would not rightly face criminal charges under similar circumstances.
That’s an interesting point, and I think, accurate. It was likely the fact of the boy’s emotional immaturity that led to his suicide. It was equally likely that the emotional immaturity of the teen girl provided the impetus.
But if this were an adult case, no jury would convict on such a charge, even if the circumstances were identical. So what we have here is a prosecutor essentially basing his charge on circumstances surrounding the immaturity of the defendant and victim; i.e., their age and experience.
Verdict: The prosecutor is utterly incompetent, unethical, and generally to be loathed as an attorney and quite possibly as a human being. He must be removed, and the case dropped.
What was a 13 year old girl doing going out with an 11 year old boy? Wait a minute, what are a 13 year old or an 11 year old doing going out with anybody? These parents should have their bells rung.
But I agree, no crime here. Just a very tragic tale.
Let me add, “And why the %#&!% do they have cell phones?”
If the 13 year old girls in your neighborhood find out that you want to have their cell phones taken away, prepare to have your house toilet papered big time or worse!
It might be big talk on my part. My daughters are 8 and 7. We’ll see how firm I am when they are 13.
REmoving smart phones from teenagers or tipping the grog overboard on a 19th century British warship.
Thinking about it parents need to have a talk before they give a 13 year old a cell phone and an agreement to follow the rules: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/2372493
Wayne, thank you for finding that. I am amazed that HuffPuffPo carried those rules, as they make good sense.
What a mess. This story is one of those stories that forces me to say what the fuck is wrong with our youth today AND what the fuck is wrong with the parents raising such imbeciles?
1. The fact that a child would think that sending such a hoax via text was appropriate behavior.
2. The fact that the child sending the text thought that the hoax was a “joke”, directly implying that she thought it would be funny.
3. The fact that the receiver of the text believed the text without any confirmation.
4. The fact that the receiver of the text felt that life was no longer worth living.
The young girl that sent this hoax text message has some underlying psychological problems and those underlying problems will likely be compounded by the result of this incident if not treated; the parents of this young girl need to get her into counseling immediately.
Jack wrote, “If we are going to find children legally liable for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress, everyone will spend their teen years in court.”
But Jack, isn’t that the direction that coddled snowflakes what it to go? They hurt my feelings, throw them in jail! Control speech IS the ultimate goal of these snowflakes, silence anything that even remotely offends them.
Jack wrote, “Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese says that she is responsible for Tysen’s death, so he is charging her with with malicious use of telecommunication service, punishable by up to six months in juvenile detention. He is also charging “Juliet” with using a computer to commit a crime, which carries a sentence of up to a year.”
The fact that Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney actually thought it was prudent to bring the text sending child up on charges shows just how illogical our justice system has become.
I think we can all agree that what this girl did was wrong and she should be “punished” for her actions; however, being wrong and needing punishment does not automatically mean that it’s illegal, she’s criminally liable, and deserving a jail sentence.
I certainly hope that the parents of this young girl do not use the “not criminally liable” argument to coddle this child and tell her that she did nothing wrong and this is all the fault of the young boy for not understanding that it was a joke. This child needs to face the facts and get psychological help.
I certainly hope the parents of the young boy that killed himself figure out that they too are partly responsible for raising a young boy that didn’t have enough self esteem and critical thinking skills to move beyond the perceived loss of a close friend.
This is sad and an indication that we have a couple of generations in our society that have failed or are failing in their psychological growth, it’s certainly not all of those generations but there are indications that the percentage is rapidly growing.
Can I add (5) and (6)
(5) The fact that a 11 year old has access to a device where he can send and receive texts unsupervised.
(6) Ditto for the 13 year old.
Z, I have a grand-daughter who has presented me with a great-grandson, age 2 and just a few weeks ago with a great-grand daughter. She is 20, and describes the loser who fathered these children as “the great love of her life”…remember, she’s 20. Obviously, I have done something wrong, since my son clearly has no idea how to be a parent, or has no interest in doing so, as he passed on NOTHING to her.
I mostly agree with what you’ve said here, but this:
What happened here is something that has occurred many times in different forms — young girl spurns young guy and he kills himself (seen that), young person kills him/herself after their young love interest is killed by some outside agency or dies of disease (heard of that). Cruel joke by young person results in suicide by young object of the joke (heard of that). Young people killing themselves in grief is as old as… well, Romeo and Juliet, at least.
It’s always easy to blame the parents, and perhaps they deserve some blame. But hormones and emotions at that age rage among us all, and the inability and inexperience controlling them are the driving force behind this kind of tragedy. The underlying psychological problem for both of these two is easily defined — it’s known as “youth.”
What we have here is the use of a different medium, namely social media or text message, which has a colorable component under the law. The prosecution is abusing it. There’s nothing wrong with the law, but there is something wrong with that prosecutor.
My first impression was that she should be punished, my second was that she’s suffered enough. But those were both gut emotional reactions, not real ethical analysis. Thanks for always provoking more critical thought.
It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it…
I agree. Even if nothing happens to her and she gets no media backlash, see is going to suffer this consequence the rest of her life. My cousin had a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of her moving car. 10 years later she is still in counseling about it.
Sure the girl needs to be punished. Just the state isn’t the entity to do it.
Her parents and peers here need to exact a certain toll on this girl.
A cruel joke gone very wrong. 13 year old girls aren’t adults even through many would like to think so. Unless this girl is “The Bad Seed” incarnate she doesn’t belong in juvie for a year. I think she’s learned a very hard lesson that she’ll have to live with for a long time.
An adult (at least a civilian one) would not go to jail for this.
Wait — they have computers and cell phones now in the UP?
I wonder if these two discussed suicide or made a suicide pact of any kind before she sent the text. Some 11 to 13 year old girls love to read books about dying young and tragically. They think it’s romantic. 11 to 13 year old boys will do whatever a girl that age tells them to do. I don’t think they have a very good grasp of the reality of death. Unless she’s some kind of monster she is going to need a lot of professional help. Bringing a lawsuit against her won’t help him or his parents and I don’t think it will serve as a deterrent. So, under this scenario who else needs help? The person least likely to get it.