Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ex-Rutgers student who spied on gay roommate gets 30 days in jail - far less than the maximum

From the AP via the Washington Post:

A former Rutgers University student who used a webcam to spy on his gay roommate was sentenced Monday to just 30 days in jail — a punishment that disappointed some activists but came as a relief to others who feared he would be made a scapegoat for his fellow freshman’s suicide.

Dharun Ravi, 20, could have gotten 10 years behind bars for his part in a case that burst onto front pages when Tyler Clementi threw himself to his death off the George Washington Bridge.

Instead, Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman gave Ravi a month in jail, placed him on three years’ probation and ordered him to get counseling and pay $10,000 toward a program to help victims of hate crimes.

“Our society has every right to expect zero tolerance for intolerance,” the judge said.


The next night, Clementi — who learned he had been spied on — committed suicide at age 18, leaving behind a final Facebook update: “jumping off the gw bridge, sorry.”

Gay-rights activists held up Clementi as an example of the consequences of bullying gays. President Barack Obama himself weighed in on the tragedy.

Ravi was convicted in March of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation on the basis of sexual orientation — an offense widely referred to as a hate crime — and trying to cover his tracks by destroying text messages and tweets and tampering with a witness.

As for Clementi’s suicide, his mother, Jane Clementi, told the judge she didn’t know exactly why her son killed himself. And Ravi’s lawyers argued that the trial was not fair because the judge did not give them details from Clementi’s computer that may have explained it.

More here.

This sounds about right to me.

There was a danger, I think, that it could have gone wrong in either direction. A maximum sentence would have essentially held this guy responsible for Clementi's death, but Ravi didn't kill him. I mean, his total-dick actions may very well have been the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of whatever demons and/or depression that drove Clementi to commit suicide, but Ravi didn't murder him--he didn't even commit manslaughter. Conversely, no jail time at all would have been a slap on the wrist, and, even though it wasn't murder or manslaughter, somebody did die in the fallout.

And there was social pressure going in both directions: I don't give a shit what lawyers say; social forces definitely affect judges' rulings. But that didn't happen in this case. Justice was served. And that's particularly important as this anti-bullying movement starts to take off. It's already sort of socially fused with the gay rights movement, which I generally think of as being a good thing, but as the concept starts to make its way into the law and into courtrooms, it is vital, simply because the notion of "bullying" can be so vague and abstract, that everybody keep their heads.

Scapegoats don't save anybody, and toothless laws are meaningless.