Conviction Overturned In Case Of Rutgers Student Whose Roommate Committed Suicide After Being Secretly Filmed
from the good-to-see dept
Four and a half years ago, we wrote about our serious concerns about the conviction of Dharun Ravi, a Rutgers student who surreptitiously filmed his roommate engaged in a sexual encounter. The roommate, Tyler Clementi, later killed himself, after finding out that he had been filmed. That part was a big story, and kicked off a variety of discussions, some of which were more reasonable than others. But as we noted back then, what was most troubling about the legal case and conviction of Ravi was that he was really being prosecuted for what Clementi did, rather than what Ravi did.
As we noted, Ravi filming Clementi was definitely creepy, immature and dumb. But criminal? If Ravi had just filmed Clementi and nothing happened, there never would have been a prosecution. Ravi was really being prosecuted because Clementi killed himself — and that’s problematic. As we’ve explained a few times, while there’s an obvious emotional reaction to someone killing themselves, no one fully knows why they did it other than the individuals themselves. And, blaming others for mean things they may have done after someone commits suicide is a really dangerous place to go. It actually encourages suicide by letting people think that killing themselves will “punish” those who are tormenting them. But the biggest thing is that we shouldn’t blame one person based on the actions of another.
After Ravi’s conviction in 2012, the state Supreme Court in a separate case struck down part of the state’s bias crime statute that focused on the victim’s state of mind. According to that case, it is the defendant’s state of mind and intent that is important, not the victim’s.
The appellate court said the prosecution conceded in its oral arguments four of Ravi’s bias convictions should “be void as a matter of law,” and, accordingly, dismissed those charges with prejudice. The court also dismissed Ravi’s conviction on hindering his own apprehension and tampering with witnesses.
Of course, this isn’t over yet. The court ordered a new trial, claiming that the original one was biased — and there’s still a chance that prosecutors may appeal this ruling to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
As for the reasoning of the court, it pointed out that prosecutors basically focused on Clementi’s actions, rather than the defendant’s (Ravi’s), and presented an unfair and biased picture to the jury:
After carefully reviewing the record developed at trial, it is clear that the evidence the State presented to prove the bias intimidation charges under N.J.S.A. 2C:16-1(a)(3) permeated the entire case against defendant, rendering any attempt to salvage the convictions under the remaining charges futile. The State used evidence revealing the victim’s reserved demeanor and expressions of shame and humiliation as a counterweight to defendant’s cavalier indifference and unabashed insensitivity to his roommate’s right to privacy and dignity. The prosecutor aggressively pressed this point to the jury in her eloquent closing argument.
It is unreasonable to expect a rational juror to remain unaffected by this evidence. In light of the Court’s ruling in Pomianek, admission of T.C.’s state of mind evidence constituted an error “of such a nature to have been clearly capable of producing an unjust result.”
In other words, exactly as we’ve talked about for years: when you go after someone because someone else committed suicide, the emotional aspects of the case are likely to completely steamroll the legal issues. Thankfully, the court has finally recognized that, even if only four years too late.
None of that is to suggest that what Ravi did was right, or that Clementi’s suicide wasn’t tragic. Ravi did something really stupid and immature. But stupid and immature doesn’t mean criminal. Hopefully the prosecutors just decide to cut their losses and drop the case altogether.