Dharun Ravi's Hateless Hate Crime

A jury blames Dharun Ravi for his dead roommate's imagined feelings.

After Dharun Ravi was convicted of "bias intimidation" crimes that carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, many people wondered why he had rejected a plea deal that would have kept him out of jail. Ravi's lawyer explained that the 20-year-old defendant's parents "didn’t believe their son acted with hate, or bias, and they didn’t want him labeled like that for life." But it turns out you can be convicted of a hate crime without hating anyone, which only compounds the injustice of laws that punish people for their bigotry. 

The jury acquitted Ravi of trying to intimidate his roommate at Rutgers University, Tyler Clementi, on September 19, 2010, when Ravi briefly used a webcam in his dorm room to watch Clementi kiss another man. But the jury nevertheless concluded that Clementi, who killed himself three days later for reasons that remain unclear, felt intimidated and "reasonably believed" he was targeted because he was gay. Under New Jersey law, that was enough. 

To convict Ravi of this unintentional, hateless hate crime, the jury had to infer Clementi's state of mind and conclude that the circumstances justified it. Those elements have reasonable doubt built into them in case like this, where the victim cannot testify and no one else knows what he was thinking. "We’ll never know exactly what he was feeling," one juror conceded. "I can only assume." Our system of justice demands more than that. 

We do know, based on Clementi's instant messages and posts, that he initially dismissed what he called Ravi's "five sec peep" but upon reflection was angry, especially since Ravi had tweeted about it. Two days later, Ravi told his Twitter followers the same man was visiting Clementi again and dared them to watch. 

The second viewing never happened, apparently because Clementi unplugged Ravi's computer. He also applied online for a room change, complained to a resident adviser, and repeatedly checked Ravi's Twitter feed. Still, the fact that Clementi had sex again in the same room suggests he was not exactly intimidated. 

The jury concluded that the aborted second viewing was a deliberate attempt to intimidate Clementi "because of [his] sexual orientation." Yet the prosecution's own witnesses testified they had never heard Ravi, who was not shy about expressing his opinions, disparage gay people or Clementi. 

The most incriminating statement introduced by prosecutors was Ravi's joke that his webcam would "keep the gays away," which might have reflected nothing more than his discomfort with the sexual activity in his room, a feeling compounded by the fact that Clementi's visitor was an older man who was not a student and who struck Ravi as "really shady" (so much so, Ravi claimed, that he set up the first viewing because he worried the man might steal his electronic equipment). 

A naive 18-year-old's uneasiness in such a situation is not the same as anti-gay hatred. Ravi did not "out" Clementi (who was not hiding his sexual orientation), did not record any images or post them online, never expressed hostility against Clementi, and, far from trying to intimidate him, sought to conceal his peeping and apologized when he was found out (saying, "I’ve known you were gay and I have no problem with it"). 

Ravi sent that message around the same time Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge. Although Ravi was never officially accused of complicity in Clementi's death, it is hard to believe he would have been prosecuted, let alone convicted, if people did not hold him responsible for precipitating his roommate's suicide—another judgment that hinges on Clementi's imagined state of mind rather than Ravi's intent. 

Reprehensible as Ravi's behavior was, he does not deserve to be treated like a violent felon, a point prosecutors implicitly conceded when they offered him that plea deal. So in addition to the various questionable crimes for which Ravi is to be punished, there is one more: insisting on his right to a trial.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

© Copyright 2012 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • ||

    I wonder if he refused the plea deal because tasking it would have meant deportation

  • MJ||

    Because everyone should admit guilt for things they do not think they are resonsible for. The invasion of privacy Ravi committed against Clementi was, arguably, a crime, but a minor one. Making it something heinous by trying to infer what motivated Ravi to do was malice against homosexuals rather than discomfort at the quality of people Clementi briught into their shared space to consort with is a miscarriage of justice.

  • ||

    "I’ve known you were gay and I have no problem with it"

    The hatred, it sears the eyes!

  • Suki||

  • Maxxx||

    How did he invade his own privacy?

    Does a homosexual's privacy now trump anyone else that share the same private space?

  • Suki||

    The same way Black sensitivities trump all others, for now.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Gays > Blacks on the Progressive Sensitivity Totem Pole. Just ask Tracy Morgan.

  • 16th amendment||

    So a black gay lesbian muslim is at the top of the pole.

  • MJ||

    You really think that you should not have right of first refusal if your roommate wants to transmit real time images of your bedroom while you are changing clothes? Is that really your stance?

  • BelowTheRim||

    Can someone please explain to me how filming your OWN dorm room can be a violation or invasion of privacy?

    It's your room!

  • BelowTheRimJob||

    I'm with you, brother. Like that time I invited a bunch of girls over for a pool party and set up hidden web cams in all the changing areas. How's that a violation of their privacy? It's my OWN house, and I was even willing to let them split 15% of the profits!

  • theDoege||

    Were you running those cams from one computer? If so, what app did you use? Mac compatible??

  • BelowTheRim||

    Unethical and illegal are two very different things.

    But I get it, you are trying to establish credibility by making a very elementary joke about my twitter handle.

    Yet you still havn't established an example with anything illegal, especially if you are splitting profits with someone because it assumes there is an agreement in place for them to be on you property and get payment for being videotaped.

  • ||

    unfortunately, the roommate had asked for the room. so, in that case there was a request for privacy...

  • ||

    not that i agree with the outcome of this case. our legal system was set up to provide "equal protection under the law". now the hate crime laws have created a special class who, somehow, get 'more' equal protection?

  • ||

    Since it starts out as "less" with certain people I don't see a problem with it.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Can you cite proof of "less"?

  • ||

    Just look in any news outlet. It's surprisingly easy to find.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Sorry, couldn't find any news about gays getting less protection under the law than straights. Unless you count their not being rounded up into camps during the AIDS epidemic. That would count as more.

  • ||

    Makes NO sense to have hate crimes. A crime alone is enough. Dont need gun laws if it's already against the law to hurt / kill people. We have WAY too many laws.

  • The Breeze||

    I'm not familiar with New Jersey law, but filming in your own dorm room can be a felony (even without the hate crime aspect). Generally for peeping tom laws it doesn't matter whose room it is as long as the person being filmed has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

  • ||

    Because everyone should admit guilt for things they do not think they are resonsible for.

    Yes because that's exactly what I said.

  • Bill||

    Hopefully the ACLU or similar will get involved and appeal this. May help get "hate" laws thrown out or clarified.

  • MJ||

    What makes you thnk the ACLU would be ideologically on Ravi's side? The case is a result of a current moral panic over bullying of homosexuals. Why would the ACLU get on the politically incorrect side of that issue?

  • Suki||

    Destined to be the funniest comment of the day.

  • ||

    Hopefully the ACLU or similar will get involved and appeal this.

    I am sure they will, much the same way they spearheaded the effort to get DC's and Chicago's gun laws overturned.

  • palpatine||

    FIRE is probably the one that can do it.

  • 16th amendment||

    Are you smoking something?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "We’ll never know exactly what he was feeling," one juror conceded. "I can only assume." Our system of justice demands more than that.

    Yeah, from twelve fucking morons too stupid to get out of jury duty?

    (All of you reasoners who have served on a jury, I assume, did so because you wanted to fuck with the process and not because you couldn't get out of it. So don't get all PMSy about my statement.)

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    (All of you reasoners who are currently PMSing due to your lady-parts cycle, don't get all in my grill about my previous parenthetical statement because we all know you don't exist here at Hit & Run.)

  • Shut the fuck up||

    "So don't get all PMSy about my statement."

    Don't you love how he says something profoundly stupid then tries to preempt criticism once he realized how stupid it was?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Are you calling me a racist? You're the racist.

  • ||

    No, you're a towel.

  • Emperor Wears No Clothes||

    +1

  • Bee Tagger||

    SO NOW THE PROUD TRADITION OF JURY NULLIFICATION IS "FUCKING WITH THE SYSTEM"?!

    Please don't mistake that as PMS, I'm just trying to misinterpret your comment to start a massive comment thread.

  • Matrix||

    trolololol

  • Loki||

    twelve fucking morons too stupid to get out of jury duty

    The one time I was called fo jury duty they asked me what I did for a living:

    Me: "Aerospace Engineer"

    Prosecutor: "You're dismissed"

    They don't really like having anyone who's intelligent and/or well educated on juries. God forbid they get someone who can actually think.

  • ||

    I've never been called for jury duty.

    I'd follow through with it just out of curiosity.

  • ||

    If Ravi's posts really bothered TClementi, he would not have brought MB repeatedly - 3 times, in 1 week to have sex in his room. He probably felt "I don't give a F*** what his imbecile room mate Ravi had to say in this matter and stick it in his face". Let us remember this was a shy kid coming out slowly but surely and turning into a strong man while MB was still in the closet. Clementi could have been showing the strength in these matters and may have been leading MB out.

    Ravi being a jerk would have done it it tyler Clementi brought a 32 yr old girl who looked scruffy and unkempt. That is how old and scruffy looking MB was.


    This should be prosecuted only as an invasion of privacy case and nothing more.

    If you're not completely happy with the verdict imbecile leniency

    Sign the petition here: http://wh.gov/NM1

  • ||

    Sorry typo:"If you're not completely happy with the verdict imbecile leniency"

    should be:"If you're not completely happy with this imbecile support leniency"

    Sign the petition here: http://wh.gov/NM1

  • ||

    All of you reasoners who have served on a jury, I assume, did so because you wanted to fuck with the process and not because you couldn't get out of it. So don't get all PMSy about my statement.

    I never have served on a jury. I wonder sometimes what it would be like to stare down 11 other people and refuse to put someone in a cage for some non-crime. I bet things get heated in a jury room when you have one person in there who actually understands his true rights, powers, and duties as a juror.

  • HeroicMulatto||

    I'm guessing it would be like 12 Angry Men, but in color.

  • ||

    I should probably watch that. I wonder how often you have one person who sees the injustice in sending someone to prison for a non-crime, holds out for a little while, then finally succumbs

  • HeroicMulatto||

    Well, if human psychology is any guide, it probably happens 99.999% of the time.

  • Ryan||

    except they usually succumb after 1/2 a second

  • Jury Member||

    . I bet things get heated in a jury room when you have one person in there who actually understands his true rights, powers, and duties as a juror.

    Dear Mr. Judge,

    One of the jury members refuses to convict even though you told us we had to follow the law and convict the defendant.

  • anon||

    wonder sometimes what it would be like to stare down 11 other people and refuse to put someone in a cage for some non-crime.

    It's funny; when I was younger (and a non-thinking liberal) I would have advocated the death penalty for anyone. Now that I've become more educated, I'd have a hard time convicting anyone of any crime that didn't involve physical assault, fraud or theft.

  • mr simple||

    Mr. Ravi is clearly not stupid; he knew exactly what he was doing. He has no one else to blame for his behavior. HIs carefully crafted, malicious plan and cruel acts contributed to the suicide of a bright, talented young man. Mr. Ravi now faces the consequences to his illegal behavior. Perhaps he'll finally learn the value of personal privacy in a prison cell.

    It's too bad Ravi wasn't from a protected class, like black kid from a bad neighborhood, or he might be deserving of our sympathy. As it is, he deserves our derision for doing something untoward to someone from a protected class who later killed himself. Now he will be strung up by the pc police.

  • sarcasmic||

    Yeah. Those scrawny Indian/Pakistani jerks are taking Amerken jerbs.

    Fuck them.

  • anon||

    Too much herp, not enough derp.

  • ||

    wait a minute. i remember not too long ago Reason had some weepy tail about a girl who was about to be deported. for some reason she didn't know she was here illegally, (apparently she was brought here when she was too young to remember). we were supposed to feel sorry because she was an A student.
    now is Mr. Ravi an A student?

  • ||

    ravi contributed to the suicide...??? I dont think so. that kid make his own decisions based on feelings...ravi doesnt control the world.

  • Unredacted||

    The ACLU is the reason all the trust fund brats can play socially awkward games of who can be edgy on sites like this without lawyers. Be thankful, homeboy.

  • Suki||

    Don't expect much truth about the ACLU on the pages of Reason.

  • ||

    The ACLU here is currently taking the side of the girl who was forced to give-up her Facebook password by school authorities.

  • mr simple||

    How many Matthew Shepards, Tyler Clementis, along with too many others to name by now, have to come down the pike and die before we get it?

    Yes, this was just like the Matthew Shepard case. How do people survive while completely deprived of rational thought? You'd think making every decision and judgement based on emotion would turn out poorly.

  • Joe||

    When I was 19 I saw a woman compare prices on and subsequently purchase a regular sized Snickers bar after seeing that King-sized Snickers bars where on sale for ten cents less. Voting, democracy, trust in government; all that ceased to exist after that fateful wait in line at the supermarket, as if the experience, however minor, was the last curing step in what I now realize is the farce of human organization. This jury is just an extension of that experience. The shame is that drugs get more and more illegal the more and more we need them for putting our pants on in the morning. Friends, love your mothers dearly.

  • HeroicMulatto||

    The problem is that we still don't know the motive for Clementi's suicide. Perhaps he did kill himself because he felt humiliated, but perhaps he killed himself because he failed a class, or the 'sketchy guy' never called back, or because he thought the NSA was using
    HARRP to read his mind.

  • sarcasmic||

    The problem is that we still don't know the motive for Clementi's suicide.

    We must assume it was because of the defendant's actions, and unless the defendant can prove his innocence (the burden of proof is flipped with hate crimes), he shall be found guilty.

  • ||

    wrong. it was already known that Clementi had just 'come out' to his mother and she wasn't very accepting to the idea of her son being gay. somehow a stranger's actions meant more to Clementi than his mother's reaction?

  • anon||

    Then it's a great thing he did off himself.

  • Amakudari||

    What she did sounds like bias intimidation to me. Off with her head.

  • ||

    His carefully crafted, malicious plan and cruel acts contributed to the suicide of a bright, talented young man.

    By definition, suicide is a solitary act undertaken by someone who's made a conscious decision to end his life. To "contribute" to a suicice would make it a homicide, which is what they should have charged him with if they really felt he was culpable. But in a system where convictions matter more than actual justice, it's always easier to go for a cheap emotional victory, which is all that happened here.

  • sarcasmic||

    in a system where convictions matter more than actual justice

    Prosecutors with lousy conviction records don't get elected to higher office.

  • anon||

    His carefully crafted, malicious plan and cruel acts contributed to the suicide of a bright, talented young man.

    This really bugs the shit out of me. He obviously wasn't too fucking bright if he killed himself because he was gay.

    Also: He must really hate gays.

  • ||

    All I can say is I sure hope Tony doesn't off himself because I called him an "imbecile".

  • Concerned Citizen||

    You've got it! Clementi should be the one accused, as he is the one who killed a gay person!

  • ||

    The real takeaway from this debacle - and which has gotten lost in the furor over the trial - is that if you're gay and looking for a place to play tummysticks with your BF, maybe a densely populated dorm full of tech-savvy teens is the wrong place to do it. I can see where Ravi's defense might not have wanted to go there, though.

  • Jess Asken||

    What if someone were so upset by this conviction that they committed suicide?

  • sarcasmic||

    Depends on whether or not they are part of a protected class.

  • ||

    What if someone were so upset by this conviction that they committed suicide?

    Well then Ravi's prosecutors would stand trial for - what was it called? - bias intimidation.

  • sarcasmic||

    Only if the person who committed suicide was part of a protected class.

  • 16th amendment||

    The statute says "because of race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation, or ethnicity", so no chance.

  • ||

    I can think of no better way to make a minority despised than to make offending them a crime.

  • Fatwa Issuer||

    You're making me even ANGRIER!

  • ||

    I can think of no better way to make a minority despised than to make offending them a crime.

    Perfectly said.

  • racist sprinkler||

    spic spic spic spic spic spic spic CHINK nigganigganigganigganigganigga

  • ||

    That was funny.

  • jacob||

    I think this ruins the narrative that hate crimes are only used against white males.

  • Brother Grimm||

    But it does solidify the narrative that some animals are more equal than others.

  • hk||

    George Orwell reference, good.

  • Observer||

    If you think hate-crime laws are unconstitutional (as I do), then put forward a decent argument why.

    Telling us how stupid the jury was for interpreting the evidence differently from your way (based only on news reports) just comes acroess as Monday morning QBing.

  • Protected Classes||

    It's our turn now, bitches. Now, I have to go finish my rap song about niggas and hos.

  • hk||

    lol

  • Loki||

    STAN: Oh, uhyeah. Hello, Mr. Governor, and thank you for taking the time to hear our presentation on hate-crime laws, entitled, "Hate Crime Laws: A Savage Hypocracy." Yes, over the past few years our great country has been developing new hate crime laws.

    TOKEN: If somebody kills somebody, it's a crime. But if someone kills somebody of a different color, it's a hate crime.

    KYLE: And we think that that is a savage hypocracy, because all crimes are hate crimes. If a man beats another man because that man was sleeping with his wife, is that not a hate crime?

    STAN: If a person vandalizes a government building, is it not because of his hate for the government?

    TOKEN: And motivation for a crime shouldn't affect the sentencing.

  • Loki||

    STAN: Mayor, it is time to stop splitting people into groups. All hate crimes do is support the idea that blacks are different from whites, that homosexuals need to be treated differently from non-homos, that we aren't the same.

    KYLE: But instead, we should all be treated the same, with the same laws and the same punishments for the same crimes. For in that way Cartman can be freed from prison, and we will have a chance to win the sledding race on Thursday.

    STAN: That is our presentation. An idea that we call...

    TOKEN: "Hate Crime Laws: A Savage Hypocracy."

  • Number 2||

    If Clemente had brought a girl to the dorm room, and Ravi had invited his friends to come over and watch Clemente and the girl engage in a sex act...it would be the same invasion of privacy, but would it be considered a hate crime? Wouldn't Clemente and the girl have been "targeted" due to their heterosexuality?

    "Hate law" crimes are not just unconstitutional. They are silly.

  • ||

    Is the girl fat?

  • Steve||

    The softer the cushion, the sweeter the pushin, the looser the waistband the deeper the quicksand, or so I've been told.

  • ||

    +Spinal Tap

  • shrike||

    Abolish the wages system

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Article 1, Section 10: No State shall pass any law impairing the Obligation of Contracts.

    Suck it, suck it hard.

  • ||

    Go paint yourself purple and moo.

  • 16th amendment||

    What's up with this comment in all the articles in this blog?

  • 16th amendment||

    I think the magic of the prosecution was in the jury selection. I believe they get to throw up a fixed number of potential jurors based on answers to some simple questions such as what magazines you subscribe to (if Reason magazine then you're out). I wonder how exactly the prosecution went about it.

  • the bilover||

    The magic of this prosecution was a) it was in New Jersey, where most of the laws of the universe do not apply, and b) it was in New Jersey, where we hate Indians more than we hate gays.

  • 16th amendment||

    If what you say (b) is true then the verdict is itself a violation of the statute quoted in the article says "because of race, color, religion, gender, handicap, sexual orientation, or ethnicity".

  • the bilover||

    Laws are for little people. Have you seen our governor? Little, he is not.

  • pwm||

    Wow. People are morons. I guess if a moron commits suicide now, possibly I've commited a hate crime.

  • Balloon Juice commenter||

    DERP DERP PAULTARD GILBERTARIANS DERP DERP

  • Balloon Juice commenter||

    GLIBertarians, but whatevs. Back to sucking John Cole's dick.

  • ||

    Funny how someone always has to pull the ole Race Card lol.

    www.real-world-anon.tk

  • the bilover||

    Reason comment threads are making my Obama-induced unemployment slightly more bearable.

    Also, I think my cat is gay, but she's smart enough to turn off my webcam.

    She's also bulimic. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    If I don't comment here regularly, watch for reports of a cat jumping off a bridge.

  • The Pointer-Outer||

    Bulimia... anorexia... either way, it's a toss-up.

  • ||

    you win all the cookies, (and the big pieces).

  • ||

    Fuck the queers, up the ass if you must. They're simply too much trouble.

  • ||

    Finally, the libertarian position made clear. Pouting and stomping because you have to act like adult human beings and not the self-indulgent children you want to be.

  • anon||

    Pouting and stomping because you have to act like adult human beings and not the self-indulgent children you want to be.

    Cool story bro.

  • ||

    true, homos ruin everything

  • ||

    Is there a non-hate crime related reason he should have received a stricter sentence if he was homophobic?
    I just don't understand why "hate" as a motivation makes a crime worse than, say, if someone did it because they were bored.

  • ||

    Actually, if our goal was minimizing crime...I would think we would give the most disincentives to motivations that maximize the scope of someone's criminal behavior.

    Think about it, if someone only kills people who are 6'1", have lazy eyes, and are named Fred....that makes the possibility of them killing again a lot lower than if they are open to killing any human just because it's fun.

  • ||

    Ravi did not take the plea deal because he did not accept committing a hate crime.

    I read a comment by an ex-Rutgers student that it was common practice in Rutgers to use their computer cameras because of the high rate of thefts that took place in the college.

    I believe that Clementi's mental state which would be revealed by the old files in his computer titled "sorry", "why is everything so painful" and "gah", his exchange of messages with friend at gay website, and his 3-page suicide note that even his parents were not shown, his suicidal tendency, his lack of friends which his mother said he had felt sad about before he left for Rutgers, and his self-loathing added up, and the LAST STRAW was Dharun's crime of inviting his friends for viewing Clementi's second encounter. Totally unfortunate for both bright young students that their paths crossed each other.

  • ||

    One might hope that an appeals court would consider the jurors' remarks as indicating a finding of guilty on the basis of facts not in evidence. Of course, appellate counsel would have to raise it and produce affidavits, but if the kid's a Rutgers student, his parents have money for a competent appeallate attorney.
    On a slightly different note, don't you think Orwell is smiling in his tomb: convicted of a 'thought crime'.

  • Team Blue ||

    It's only a hate crime when WE say it is.

  • Matt Q||

    There is a lot of ignorance when it comes to bias intimidation laws. The intent of the law is not against the emotion of hate, it is the ability for the state to prosecute crimes that target large groups of people but only affect a small group. Such laws are not to criminalize hate, but allow the state to pass a "loophole" in how criminals cause violence. The intent of burning cross in a yard is crime against many with dire effects, but could be a mere property crime. I am not arguing that such laws are perfect, and I am certainly aware that they are abused.

    The writer of this article was unfortunately biased, misconstruing an important part: Ravi ... did not record any images or post them online Recording is a semantic ploy here... he used a webcam to stream video online.

    That being said, the jury was mistaken for the guilty verdict for bias intimidation.

  • ||

    I have a bit of confusion over the verdict, in that if Clementi was openly gay, how could he possibly have been driven to suicide by a video having been taken of him kissing another man?

    I guess the outcome of this case must have involved another of those moments in our legal history when a jury bought some bullshit story.

  • jason||

    Hate crime is really a serious in some society and its gonna be hard case for him.

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