Saturday, March 17, 2012

Jury Finds Spying in Rutgers Dorm Was a Hate Crime

This from the New York Times:
A former Rutgers University student was convicted on Friday on all 15 charges he had faced for using a webcam to spy on his roommate having sex with another man, a verdict poised to broaden the definition of hate crimes in an era when laws have not kept up with evolving technology.

Dharun Ravi at Superior Court in Middlesex County, N.J
“It’s a watershed moment, because it says youth is not immunity,” said Marcellus A. McRae, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice. 

The student, Dharun Ravi, had sent out Twitter and text messages encouraging others to watch. His roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge three days after the webcam viewing, three weeks into their freshman year in September 2010.

The case set off a debate about whether hate-crime statutes are the best way to deal with bullying. While Mr. Ravi was not charged with Mr. Clementi’s death, some legal experts argued that he was being punished for it, and that this would result only in ruining another young life. They, along with Mr. Ravi’s lawyers, had argued that the case was criminalizing simple boorish behavior. 

But Bruce J. Kaplan, the prosecutor in Middlesex County, applauded the jury for sending a strong message against bias. 

“They felt the pain of Tyler,” he said...

The jury also found him guilty of lying to investigators, trying to influence a witness and tampering with evidence after he tried to cover up Twitter and text messages inviting others to join in the viewing. 

Some of the charges carry penalties of 5 to 10 years in prison. Mr. Ravi has surrendered his passport; prosecutors said he could face possible deportation to his native India, but that decision would be left to immigration officials. Judge Glenn Berman set sentencing for May 21. 

The case was a rare one in which almost none of the facts were in dispute. Mr. Ravi’s lawyers agreed that he had set up a webcam on his computer, and had then gone into a friend’s room and viewed Mr. Clementi kissing a man he met a few weeks earlier on a Web site for gay men. He sent Twitter and text messages urging others to watch when Mr. Clementi invited the man again two nights later, then deleted messages after Mr. Clementi killed himself. 

That account had been established by a long trail of electronic evidence — from Twitter feeds and cellphone records, dormitory surveillance cameras, dining hall swipe cards and a “net flow” analysis showing when and how computers in the dormitory connected. 

What the jury had to decide, and what set off debate outside as well as inside the courtroom, was what Mr. Ravi and Mr. Clementi were thinking. 

Had Mr. Ravi set up the webcam because he had a pretty good idea that he would see Mr. Clementi in an intimate moment? Had he targeted Mr. Clementi and the man he was with because they were gay? And had Mr. Clementi been in fear? 

Without Mr. Clementi to speak for himself, that last question was perhaps the most difficult to determine, and jurors struggled with it. 

“That was the hardest because you really can’t get into someone’s head,” said one, Bruno Ferreira, as he left the court. The jury deliberated longest — for well more than an hour, he said — on the bias intimidation charge. 

Mr. Ferreira said he ultimately voted guilty on the bias intimidation charge because Mr. Ravi had sent multiple Twitter messages about Mr. Clementi....


Anonymous said...

Note to self: If I decide to harrass anyone in the future, be sure to send complementary and accepting tweets about any diversity characteristic that person might possess prior to harrassment.

Anonymous said...

I still can't figure how being responsible for a tort against one person based upon their race, religion, sexual preference, etc is any more harmful or injust to the person who is injured than if the offense was committed for a reason not aligned with current "hate crime" victim identifiers. If a person asaults me because I am transgender, Muslim or Hispanic person as opposed being beaten because they think I cut them off in traffic or insulted their mother in the store, I am still harmed and the act is equally criminal.

Does it really matter to me if my son is asaulted and robbed because he is thought to be gay and Jewish as opposed to being attacked and robbed because he appears to be carrying an expensive laptop and a billfold full of cash?

So are we saying that racism, sexism, etc is worse than greed, addiction or pure agression?

Just like Americans have come to recognize the unfair and unethical special treatment which the white majority often received in the past, one must now consider whether we are now doing the same thing and creating the same unjustifiable inequities by identifing certain citizens worthy of greater punishments for their transgressors than the majority. It was my understanding that civil right sought equality, not exceptionality.