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Why Dharun Ravi got 30 days in jail in Rutgers webcam spying case (+video)

Dharun Ravi committed 'reprehensible' acts in setting up a webcam to spy on his Rutgers roommate's gay relationship, but they did not reach the level of a hate crime, the judge said.

By Staff writer / May 21, 2012

Dharun Ravi stands alone in a New Brunswick, N.J., courtroom Monday following a sentencing hearing for his conviction in using a webcam to invade the privacy of his roommate, Tyler Clementi, and another man in their college dorm room.

Lee Celano/REUTERS

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A former Rutgers University student was sentenced to serve 30 days in jail in a case of webcam spying that drew national attention to issues of online privacy, suicide, and antigay bullying.

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Former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi was sentenced to serve 30 days in jail in a case of webcam spying that drew national attention to issues of online privacy, suicide, and antigay bullying.

Dharun Ravi was also sentenced to do 300 hours of community service and pay $10,000 to assist bias-crime victims.

With Mr. Ravi facing the possibility of 10 years in prison and even deportation to his native India, the sentence was lighter than some legal analysts expected.

The case isn't over. Legal experts anticipate an appeal by Ravi of the guilty verdict, even as prosecutors for the state of New Jersey may appeal the sentence.

But already, the case has served as a showcase for the nation of the risks that arise when young people use social media as an integral part of their lives, sometimes with little thought about the potential toll on others, or the potential legal consequences. 

The case involved Ravi's use of a dorm-room webcam to spy on his roommate's gay relationship while the two were freshman at Rutgers in the fall of 2010. The incident became a nationwide symbol of digital-age bullying because it involved Ravi's text messages to friends and his public Twitter updates, and because the roommate committed suicide a few days later.

Ravi was not charged with causing the death of Tyler Clementi, his roommate. But a jury this year found Ravi guilty of 15 criminal counts, including invasion of privacy, "bias intimidation," and obstructing justice after police began investigating.

Judge Glenn Berman opted for a middle-ground sentence, issuing what he said were serious punishments for serious crimes, but stopping short of a lengthy prison term.

Perhaps central to the relatively light 30-day jail time was this: Judge Berman made a point of noting that Ravi's actions, however reprehensible, were not violent and that neither he nor the prosecution was using the term "hate crime" to describe them.

"I do not believe [the legislature] envisioned this type of behavior" when it passed the anti-bias statute at the heart of the case, Berman said.

Berman said he would recommend against deportation for Ravi, who has Indian citizenship although he has lived most of his life in America. The judge noted that his stance was aligned with the view of one of the victims in the case. The man known in the trial as "M.B.," whose privacy was violated along with Mr. Clementi's, provided a statement opposing the idea of deporting Ravi for his offenses.

Ravi chose not to speak prior to his sentencing.

The judge, addressing Ravi, said "I haven't heard you apologize," and he said in a pre-sentencing letter Ravi had apologized to Tyler Clementi and the Clementi family, but had not mentioned M.B. or the guilty verdicts regarding corruption of the judicial process. The jury found Ravi guilty of witness tampering, lying to police, and deleting text messages and Twitter posts.

Some advocates against bias crimes said Ravi's sentence was too light.

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