Prisons

Dharun Ravi Gets 30-Day Jail Sentence, Plus Probation

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Today a New Jersey judge sentenced Dharun Ravi to 30 days in jail, plus three years of probation, 300 hours of community service, and a $10,000 "assessment," for the "colossal insensitivity" he showed by using a webcam to spy on his Rutgers University roommate, Tyler Clementi, while the latter was making out with another man, and for seeking to conceal his actions from police. Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman said he would recommend that Ravi, a legal resident who came to the U.S. when he was 5, not be deported (although that's not his call). Since Ravi was convicted of invading Clementi's privacy with the intent of intimidating him because of his sexual orientation, he faced a possible sentence of five to 10 years, with a presumption of a prison term except when it would result in a "serious injustice." Berman concluded that the mitigating factors—including Ravi's clean record, the unlikelihood that he will commit another offense, and his failure to anticipate the emotional impact of his actions—outweighed the aggravating factors. He emphasized that Ravi was not charged with complicity in Clementi's suicide, which occurred a few days after the spying incident.

More to come.

Previous coverage of the case here.

Addendum: Although Berman noted that "the defendant is not charged with causing or contributing to Tyler's death," it is unlikely that Ravi would have been charged at all, let alone with a crime punishable by 10 years in prison, if Clementi had not jumped off the George Washington Bridge on September 22, 2010. Addressing the court before sentencing, the defendant's father and his lawyer, Steven Altman, both argued that Ravi was being punished for driving Clementi to kill himself, and they complained that Berman had not allowed the admission of evidence (presumably including Clementi's suicide note) that would have suggested a different motivation. The influence of Clementi's suicide was inescapable as his heartbroken mother and brother addressed the court, saying Ravi (who chose not to speak before sentencing) should serve time behind bars because he had not shown sufficient remorse for his "cruel" and "evil" actions. But the most emotional testimony came from Ravi's mother, who repeatedly broke into tears at the prospect that her son would be treated the way the Clementis demanded. She emphasized the toll that Ravi's vilification had taken, saying, "Dharun's dreams are shattered, and he has been living in hell the last 20 months." Ravi's father noted that the prosecution's own witnesses had testified that "he never had any hatred or said anything derogatory against gays," and he pleaded with the judge not to impose a sentence that would trigger deportation. "This is my country and my home," he said. "Don't force us to go back."

While the prosecutor, Julia McLure, presented a crisp summary of her case, emphasizing Ravi's "malicious" behavior in spying on and tweeting about his roommate, Altman seemed to be flailing, saying "it's not impossible" that Ravi would avoid prison, but "I'm climbing a mountain." He appeared distracted by the animosity he believes Clementi's parents feel toward him, repeatedly saying that he was only doing his job in representing Ravi. "We might have made some mistakes," he said defensively, "but we tried to keep it within the rules." Altman's speculation about the Clementis' feelings later drew a rebuke from the judge, who said they had conducted themselves calmly and with dignity. Altman did manage to note that Ravi had sent a text-message apology to Clementi and that he had tried to communicate with Clementi's parents but was rebuffed.

Altman's uneasiness (he said he was "1,000 times" more nervous that he had ever been before a client's sentencing) was especially puzzling given that Ravi's presentence report recommended probation in light of his immaturity, sheltered upbringing, and lack of foresight as an 18-year-old college freshman. It called him "an excellent candidate for community-based supervision." Berman evidently took the report to heart, repeatedly calling it a "neutral" evaluation and agreeing with most of its conclusions. Initially he seemed inclined to punish Ravi more severely. "I haven't heard you apologize once," Berman told him, calling the letter he wrote for the presentence report "unimpressive." Berman seemed most indignant about Ravi's "cold" and "calculated" attempts to cover up his spying and gossiping, which included deleting tweets and trying to influence what a witness told police. But contrary to what you might expect in a "bias crime" case, Berman did not describe Ravi as a bigot, perhaps because there is little evidence suggesting he is. "This individual was not convicted of a hate crime," the judge said. "He was convicted of a bias crime."

At the same time, Berman expressed doubt that the state legislature had this sort of case in mind when it enacted the bias crime statute, which heretofore has been used to prosecute people who commit or threaten violence. He also disagreed with the state's description of Ravi's underlying invasion-of-privacy offenses, which contrary to the charges did not involve viewing sexual penetration or genitalia. He worked hard to arrive at the 30-day jail sentence despite the presumptive prison term, employing a series of maneuvers that no doubt will be challenged by the prosecution. In the end, except for the month in jail, the sentence is similar to what would have happened if Ravi had accepted the plea deal offered by prosecutors (who, like Berman, said they would try to prevent his deportation). This is a pretty good outcome for Ravi, if you ignore all the reasons why he should not have been prosecuted or convicted on these charges to begin with.

Earlier this month I explained how Ravi's "wildly inappropriate" behavior (as Clementi called it) became a felony subject to a 10-year prison sentence. Today's New York Times notes that various gay commentators urged leniency for Ravi.

Addendum II: Judging from some of the comments, there is still confusion about a point that Altman raised in his remarks before sentencing: Contrary to a popular misconception, Ravi did not watch Clementi having sex (he saw just a few seconds of kissing), did not record what he saw, and did not post it online. Nor did he "out" Clementi, who was not trying to conceal his sexual orientation. For more on these points, see Ian Parker's thorough report in The New Yorker.