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An Unjust Verdict in the Rutgers Cyber-Spying Case

05/31/2012 04:57 pm ET | Updated Jul 31, 2012

A terrible tragedy took place at Rutgers University when two 18-year-old men were randomly selected by the university to share a bedroom at a student dormitory. One of the young men, Dharun Ravi, was an immigrant from India; the other, Tyler Clementi, an Italian-American.

Ravi, suspecting that Clementi was gay, entered into a plan with a female student -- later given immunity for her testimony -- to videotape his roommate's activities at night when Clementi had a male visitor to the bedroom he shared with Ravi, having arranged with Ravi to have the room for himself the evening of September 19, 2010 and again on September 21 for a number of hours. Ravi alerted fellow students to watch the Webcam video he took on September 21, and sure enough, the video showed Clementi in a sexual embrace with a male partner. Clementi learned of the taping and on September 22, 2010 committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge, posting on Facebook from his cellphone, "Jumping off the gw bridge, sorry." His suicide note on his computer was not released to the public.

Ravi was not tried for the death of Clementi, but was tried and convicted, the New York Times editorial of May 22, 2012 reported, for "invasion of privacy, witness tampering and multiple counts of a hate crime called bias intimidation. The jury found that Mr. Ravi knew his conduct could make Tyler Clementi, his roommate, feel targeted because he was gay." Ravi was found guilty on March 16, 2012 and sentenced on May 21, 2012.

In sentencing Ravi, Judge Glenn Berman of the Superior Court in Middlesex County, New Jersey, began his remarks by saying "I heard this jury say guilty 288 times -- 24 questions, 12 jurors, that's the multiplication" and "I haven't heard you apologize once." Listening to those remarks undoubtedly caused some in the courtroom to think the court was going to sentence Ravi to the max of 10 years. But no, the judge went on to say, "I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi. I do believe he acted out of colossal insensitivity." The jury thought it was a hate crime. The judge has the right to reject a jury's verdict if he believes there wasn't sufficient evidence to support it. He did not do that. Putting aside the hate crime aspect, what about the crime of witness tampering which Ravi was convicted of? Apparently, that is not a serious crime in New Jersey. If it were, wouldn't Ravi have been sentenced to serious time just for that one crime?

What did the judge mete out as punishment? Thirty days in jail, three years of probation, 300 hours of community service, counseling about cyber-bullying and alternate lifestyles and about $11,000 in fees.

I say not enough. Tyler Clementi is dead. It is true that Ravi was not charged with his death, but he was charged with witness tampering and tampering with physical evidence and hindering his apprehension and prosecution. Those are serious matters. Surely at least a year in prison of the 10 available under the law would have provided greater justice and closure for Clementi's parents. Hopefully, on appeal, although appellate courts do not like to substitute their judgment on sentencing for that of the trial judge, the appellate judges will set aside the lower court's sentencing decision and send the case back for re-sentencing in accordance with their direction.

The trial court's unjustifiably lenient sentence has shocked the public's conscience. Adding to the outrageousness of the sentence and anger of the public is the decision of the defendant to appeal the sentence on the ground it is too onerous. The defenders of the judge's sentence refer to the fact that there was no physical violence committed by Ravi. However, in my view, they ignore the reality of the shame, depression and psychic violence visited upon Clementi by Ravi, which can have a more devastating impact than physical violence.

Finally, Ravi didn't apologize for his actions when given the opportunity before sentencing to do so. To me and others, that showed no remorse. His apology, days later, I believe to be worthless, occasioned by the court's pointing out the lack of an apology prior to sentencing. Days after sentencing, the trial judge sought to defend his lenient 30-day jail sentence. The Daily News of May 31 reported, "The judge also said a longer sentence where Ravi would serve time in prison alongside murderers and rapists seemed inappropriate. 'I can't find it in me to remand him to state prison,' Berman said. 'I don't believe that fits this case.'" State prisons have populations that include many more criminals who are not murderers and rapists. Ravi deserves to serve with them.