In March 2012, former Rutgers University student, Dharun Ravi, was convicted of 15 counts of invasion of privacy and related crimes for setting up a webcam to spy on his new roommate, Tyler Clementi, who was having sex with another man. In September 2010, just days after learning what Ravi had done, Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in New York City.
I covered most of Ravi’s trial. Actually, I showed up at the New Brunswick, New Jersey courthouse about halfway through the trial because I had been in Raleigh, NC covering the retrial of Jason Young. (In his second trial, Young was convicted of murdering his wife. But the case has since been reversed; Young is awaiting a third trial!)
Ravi’s actions are simple to explain—his set up his webcam for capture his roommate’s sexual encounter then encouraged his friends at school to watch. I don’t believe any graphic images were actually seen by anyone. That doesn’t, however, diminish the severity of Ravi’s conduct. What’s harder to explain is the law that applied to his actions and the various charges against him. I posted a few documents on the Documents page under the new heading of Ravi, Dharun. Among the documents are two memos I wrote in 2012 explaining the charges and the potential sentences. (If you’re interested in learning more, I suggest you check the memos and other filings.) As summarized in one of the memos, the charges were:
2 counts of Invasion of Privacy (counts 1 and 3)
2 counts of Attempted Invasion of Privacy (counts 5 and 7)
4 counts of Bias Intimidation (counts 2, 4, 6, 8)
3 counts of Tampering with Physical Evidence (counts 9, 10, 15)
3 counts of Hindering Apprehension or Prosecution (counts 11, 12, 13)
1 count of Witness Tampering (count 14)
Ultimately, Ravi was convicted of all counts against him. While he faced significant prison time, now-retired Judge Glenn Berman sentenced him to 30 days in jail, 300 hours of community service, and three years of probation. As you can see, Ravi was NOT charged with causing Clementi’s suicide.
Ravi served his sentence years ago and has moved on with his life but, until last Friday, he remained a convicted felon.
On September 9, a New Jersey appellate court threw out four of the charges as unconstitutional and one for insufficient evidence, and ordered a new trial on the remaining 10 counts. The tossed counts are the four bias intimidation and one of the hindering apprehension or prosecution.
The decision to throw out four “bias intimidation” counts was based on a 2013 New Jersey appellate case that found unconstitutional a theory of the bias intimidation statute. That theory is premised on the victim’s perception not the intent of the defendant. In other words, the statute in effect when Ravi was convicted allowed for a guilty verdict if Ravi’s actions humiliated Clementi regardless of what Ravi’s intent was.
Bias intimidation is a sentencing enhancement statute; it’s not a separate crime. It enhances, for example, the punishment for Invasion of Privacy—one of the crimes for which Ravi was convicted.
The appellate court also found that Ravi’s motion for a judgment of acquittal for count 12, hindering prosecution, should have been granted. Hence, that count is also now dismissed for insufficient evidence.
The Middlesex County District Attorney has 20 days to decide whether to appeal to the state’s highest court—the New Jersey Supreme Court. As Ravi’s lawyer Steven Altman said in a recent article: “It’s far from over.”