After several false starts, the Michelle Carter trial is set to begin in Taunton. The case revolves around the suicide of Conrad Roy, who was found dead in his car in a Fairhaven parking lot, having evidently killed himself through carbon monoxide poisoning. Prosecutors have charged Carter with manslaughter based on the theory that she contributed to Roy’s death through scores of text messages urging him to end his life.

The case has gained national attention. And for good reason, especially when seen through the prism of cyber-bullying and the use of technology to harm others. Should someone face manslaughter charges for actions based on text messages, for what might be characterized as “mere words”? To what extent should Carter bear responsibility for an act that occurred many miles away by a person alone in his car? Why doesn’t Massachusetts have a specific law, like those in many other states, that criminalizes assisted suicide where coercion is involved? 

Those are some big-picture questions. Here are a few discrete issues worth thinking about as the trial unfolds.

Why did Carter waive her right to a jury trial? 

First thing this morning, Carter opted to have the case heard by a judge instead of a jury. That’s her prerogative — and not an uncommon decision. Defendants in high-profile cases with unpleasant facts often choose to proceed with a judge (who has possibly “seen it all”) rather than run the risk of antagonizing jurors unaccustomed to the gritty nature of criminal activity. 

After all, the suicide occurred, and the trial will take place, in Bristol County along the commonwealth’s south coast. Bristol encompasses the towns of Taunton, Fall River, and New Bedford, among others. The media in that region has covered the case extensively and defense attorneys would have been hard-pressed to find prospective jurors who haven’t heard of the incident, not to mention already formed an opinion.

Will Carter testify on her behalf?

Prosecutors bear the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal case. The defense need not put on a case at all, and rather may simply poke holes in the prosecution’s evidence through cross-examination of government witnesses. If the defense chooses to put on a case, will Carter testify? She doesn’t have to; the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination affords her the power to decide whether to take the stand. 

What are the costs and benefits of testifying? The texts that she sent to Roy will come in as admissible evidence against her, so taking the stand would give her the chance to explain her intent behind them — to minimize the sting of those messages. But that’s a risky tactic. If she comes across as callous, the judge could turn on her. And the chilling language of at least some of her messages might be hard to explain away even with the most sympathetic of witnesses. My bet is that she asserts her privilege and remains silent.

What is the biggest legal obstacle facing the prosecution?

Here, prosecutors must prove that Carter “caused” Roy’s death, and that’s going to be a challenge. Roy not only had a history of suicidal tendencies — a history that predated his involvement with Carter — but he also was alone in his car that fateful night. The defense will likely dwell on these points from the outset, maintaining that Roy would have done this anyway and that it was his tragic decision in the end. In sum, the goal for the defense is to create reasonable doubt about causation. I think that goal might be within reach.