Advocates fear implications Dharun Ravi case

The Takeaway

Rutgers student Tyler Clementi made worldwide headlines almost two years ago after jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

Clementi, who had recently told his family he was gay, was spied on while kissing another man by his roommate, Dharun Ravi, using a webcam. Ravi made the information public via his Twitter account.

Ravi was convicted of bias intimidation and invasion of privacy but was not charged with Clementi’s suicide. Prosecutors have recommended 5 to 10 years in prison for Ravi. The judge on Monday ordered him to spend 30 days in jail, but prosecutors have vowed an appeal.

Marc Pourier, a law professor at Seton Hall University, said he doesn’t believe Ravi’s actions constitute a hate crime, which would indicate that a shorter sentence was in fact in order.

“Hate crimes are typically crimes of violence … They’re murder, baseball bats, trespass involving spray painting swastikas or things like that, and this is essentially a peeping Tom crime with no apparent immediate threat of being repeated to other people,” Pourier said. “It was a horrible roommate mismatch with a prank, and it went bad. And then Clementi committed suicide.”

Pourier, who is gay himself, said he believes prosecutors proposed too harsh a punishment. He said he could not find a similar incident being labeled a bias-motivated crime.

“This is new territory. I think we need to think about it very carefully. I don’t think we have a good grasp on how to deal with the injuries that come from saying bad things to people over the Internet, whether other people can hear them. Even though it is arguable that what Dharun Ravi did fits barely within the letter of the law, I think it is just excessive,” Pourier said. 

In an interview with ABC News, Ravi said he does not believe he was responsible for Clementi’s death. He said Clementi had problems in his life unrelated to the webcam incident.

“I felt like I was being used by everybody, and I felt like it was unfortunate,” Ravi said. “They’re taking advantage of me, even though what they think happened isn’t what happened.

Pourier said Clementi’s death does not look like a typical case of bullying leading to suicide. Pourier thinks current laws may cast too large of a net for hate crimes.

“I personally am concerned because I understand, and this case makes it clear, how much discretion prosecutors have when and how to apply bias-crime laws, and this … makes visible the fact that most bias-crime laws are drafted quite broadly,” Pourier said. “I think other kinds of things which might make us think, ‘Wait a minute. That’s bad, but it’s not like hitting people with a baseball bat.’ That’s opened up by this case, and some people celebrate that. It worries me.”

Dharun Ravi may also face deportation, because he is an Indian citizen living legally in the United States. In the sentencing, the judge said he didn’t think Ravi should be deported.

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