Dharun Ravi, 20, a student from New Jersey was recently found guilty by a jury in Middlesex County of bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, and hindering prosecution for using his laptop to secretly record and broadcast an intimate encounter between his Rutgers roommate, Tyler Clementi, and another man.
Clementi later committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in September 2010, days after being made aware of the incident. Ravi was never charged with Clementi’s death but the case did become a lightning rod for discussions about cyber bullying.
For his crimes Ravi faced up to 10 years in state prison. Sentencing guidelines called for him to get more than a year, but his defense attorney argued that such a sentence would have been a grave injustice, saying that such a lengthy term would have been an attempt to hold Ravi responsible for the death of Clementi.
The probation officer who interviewed Ravi recommended he receive no jail time, based on his clean record and how unlikely he was to reoffend. During the sentencing hearing Clementi’s mother, Jane, cried, asking the judge to do justice for her son. “I am asking the court to do the right thing. The whole country is watching. This… should not be tolerated.” The Clementis argued that Ravi should serve hard time, though not the maximum sentence. Ravi’s mother begged the judge for mercy, describing the unfair attacks leveled against her son, saying he’s been broken to pieces by the trial.
For their part, the prosecution did not seek the maximum term, a bit of a surprise to some, but said they expected more than a mere 30-day jail term. State Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman handed down his sentence ordering Ravi to serve three years’ probation, perform 300 hours of community service, receive mandatory counseling, and pay a $10,000 fee to be used to assist victims of bias crimes. The judge said he would recommend that Ravi, who legally immigrated from India as a child, not be deported. Despite this one prosecutor expressed her disappointment, making clear that she felt a state prison sentence was warranted.
The deal is still more punitive than that originally offered by the prosecution to Ravi. The Government was willing to let Ravi walk away with probation and no jail time if he would plead guilty to a hate crime. His attorney advised against such a plea given that Ravi claims to have harbored no anti-gay bias.
Some in the gay community were critical of the unexpectedly light punishment meted out in the case, saying that it will not serve as a deterrent to other bullies. This sentiment was not uniformly held though as other openly gay legal experts pointed out that in this case there was never any violence committed or threatened against Clementi or his romantic partner. One expert said that he couldn’t think of another case where invasion of privacy alone would be treated as a bias crime as violence (or the threat of violence) is typically involved. In its verdict, the jury agreed, finding that in some instances Ravi’s intentions were not out of hatred or bias, but that Clementi had perceived them as such.
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