Hate crime redefined? Judge sees no hate in Rutgers webcam spy case
Dharun Ravi was sentenced to 30 days jail for using a webcam to spy on a gay college roommate. He could have received 10 years. But the judge said "I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi."
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In New Jersey, a major push to adopt such laws came more than 20 years ago amid a string of attacks on Indian-Americans. The state's bias intimidation law dates to 2001 — one of many similar laws adopted around the time after Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student, was beaten and left tied to a desolate fence post. He later died.
In 2009, Congress expanded federal hate-crimes legislation to cover crimes motivated by bias against gays, lesbians and transgender people. The bill is known as the Matthew Shepard Act.
Thursday evening, as they appeared on a panel after a screening of a documentary about the Shepard killing, Clementi's parents noted parallels with their son's case.
"While the circumstances were different, the effect was the same," Joe Clementi said.
Critics of the laws say they are troublesome because they require juries to consider the motive of the suspects — not just their actions. And in New Jersey, along with some other states, a conviction can come because the victim reasonably believes he or she is being targeted out of bias.
The whole concept bothers Bill Dobbs, a New York City gay rights activist.
"Law and order cannot solve social problems," he said.
Dr. Sanjay Nath, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology and the Director of the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener University in Chester, Pa., said he believes the sentence takes seriously what Ravi did and provides a reminder that people should think about the effects on others before they act. But he has trouble seeing what happened to Clementi as a hate crime/
"Whether it's a hate crime, that part I can't wrap my mind around," he said.
"When someone beats someone up and says, 'You're a fag,' it's a hate crime."
Judge Berman, whose sentence for Ravi was far short of the 10-year maximum, said he looked at the bias intimidation laws in 39 states and found that New Jersey's was broader than most. The majority are used to increase sentences for those convicted of violent crimes.
In Ravi's case, the underlying crime was invasion of privacy. And whether he was hateful came up again and again.
Evidence provided by prosecutors included instant messages and tweets by Ravi that could be construed as youthful teasing, including, "I saw him making out with a dude. Yay."
During the trial, Ravi's lawyers called just seven witnesses. The main question for all of them was: Did he hate gays? All of them said they did not know him to.
Last week, several hundred protesters gathered at the New Jersey State House to show support for Ravi and decry what they saw as injustices in New Jersey's hate-crime laws.
At his sentencing, his mother, Sabitha Ravi, tearfully pleaded with a judge not to send her son to prison. Dharun Ravi, she said, "doesn't have any hatred in his heart toward anybody."
Clementi's mother, Jane Clementi, also in tears, told the judge Ravi did deserve incarceration because, she said, Ravi was hateful toward her son.
"Why was he so arrogant, mean-spirited and evil?" she asked.
Clementi and her family did not comment after the sentencing. But the Middlesex County prosecutor's office made its position clear by announcing it planned to appeal the sentence.
He deserved more time for a hate crime, the office said.
Ravi is likely to appeal the conviction entirely.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
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