Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Death of Gay Roommate in Spying Case 

MSNBC reports that Dharun Ravi could face a decade in prison over charges that he used a web camera to spy on the romantic encounters of his gay roommate, who later took his life.
Ravi’s roommate and fellow first-year student at Rutgers University, Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, 2010. Authorities say that was three days after Ravi watched Clementi kiss another man via a web camera and one day after Ravi tried to do it again.  Closing arguments wrapped up Tuesday in a New Jersey courtroom where Ravi faces 15 criminal charges, including invasion of privacy. The jury would need to find him guilty of that in order to convict him of bias intimidation.

The presiding judge in the case has expressed some skepticism about the bias intimidation law, The Associated Press reported. "I could be wrong," Judge Glenn Berman told lawyers on Monday after the jury left. "I said this statute to me is muddled. It could be written better."

The defense said Ravi was immature but not homophobic, while the prosecution said he intended to intimidate Clementi and the man who visited his room – known by the initials M.B. – because they were gay.  For a bias intimidation conviction – which carries a 10-year sentence – the jury has to unanimously agree that one of three criteria has been met: There’s evidence that the victim felt he was being intimidated or evidence that the defendant purposely or knowingly attempted to intimidate based on biased motivations.

What is interesting about this case for me, is that a lot of evidence seems to be missing.  For example [I’m analyzing this from news reports and without the court record] I haven’t seen any evidence of Ravi’s motives.  He is accused of setting up a camera to spy on his gay roommate, but it doesn’t say why.  With the victim of the alleged crime now deceased, any statements of actual intimidation toward the victim, if they existed at all, wouldn’t be available for the jury to hear.  If the reason for his videotaping was simply "curiosity," wouldn't we need some more evidence?

Obviously the circumstances of this case are absolutely tragic.  It is such a shame that Clementi’s life ended prematurely, and the reasons for his death are heartbreaking, even for a robot like me.

But the devil’s advocate [or maybe just the criminal defense attorney] in me has to probe this case a little further.

And what about the invasion of privacy issue?  When I was living in the dorm in college, my roommate and I lived in a single room the size of a large walk-in closet.  The beds were bunked because if they weren’t, you wouldn’t be able to walk through the dorm room.  In such a small place, where both roommates share ALL of the living quarters, there really wasn’t much of a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Why wouldn’t a person be allowed to set up a camera in their own living quarters? 

I know what you’re thinking – if Ravi set up a camera and didn’t tell his roommate, doesn’t that mean that Clementi might have reasonably expected some privacy when Ravi wasn’t home?  Maybe you’re right.  Let’s see if the jury believes beyond any reasonable doubt that Ravi is guilty.  I just wouldn't be surprised to hear a Not Guilty verdict or a hung jury in this case.  We’ll see…

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