Fordham Law


Ravi found guilty of majority of Rutgers spying charges

Annemarie McAvoy in USA Today, March 16, 2012

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NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – A former Rutgers University student accused of electronically spying on his gay roommate was found guilty Friday of invasion of privacy and at least one of the most serious charges against him.

Since Dharun Ravi was found guilty of one of the bias intimidation charges against him, he could face up to 10 years in prison. Judge Glenn Berman of Middlesex County Superior Court said Ravi will be sentenced May 21.

The jury considered Ravi's fate on 35 separate questions regarding 15 counts, making for complex deliberations over three days. He was found guilty of 24 charges including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, attempted invasion of privacy, tampering with physical evidence, hindering apprehension or prosecution, witness tampering and tampering with physical evidence.

Legal experts say the case underscores how social media can be as dangerous as it is convenient - if it is used to torment others.

People "don't feel like they're spying. It's just their own iPhone they're using, their own laptop," said Annemarie McAvoy, an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School in New York. "Hopefully, parents will use this as an example for their children."

In September 2010, Ravi, then a freshman at Rutgers, was accused of rigging the webcam of a computer in the room he shared with new roommate Tyler Clementi so it could be turned on from remote locations for live viewing. For a few seconds on the night of Sept. 19, 2010, Ravi and another student observed Clementi's encounter with another man.

Ravi also was charged with making a second attempt to spy on the pair two days later. Clementi discovered the attempt and was extremely upset.
On the third day, the gay teen jumped off the George Washington Bridge; his body was not found until a week later. The trial has drawn national attention because of discussions it has raised regarding cyber-bullying, misuse of social media and anti-gay bias. Ravi was not charged in connection with Clementi's death.

Most worrisome for Ravi were two bias intimidation charges and one of the hindering charges because of the prison time. To find Ravi guilty of bias, the jurors first had to unanimously agree that Ravi invaded, or attempted to invade, the privacy of either Clementi or his date.

Rutgers University said in a statement: "This sad incident should make us all pause to recognize the importance of civility and mutual respect in the way we live, work and communicate with others."

Ravi's attorney, Steven Altman, issued a brief statement saying "everyone could rest assured that at the appropriate time an appeal will be filed."

Many Rutgers students said they were surprised at the verdict.

"It's totally understandable how the gay and lesbian communities feel. And I feel for the Clementi family," student Saba Khan said. "But I don't think this was a hate crime. And it's sad situation for everyone."

Carlos Lara, 21, a computer science major at Rutgers University who is gay, said he thought what Ravi did was "very immature" but not necessarily worthy of a jail sentence.

"I don't think he wanted to kill (Tyler Clementi). What occurred really was the straw that broke the camel's back," Lara said. "He should get fined or get community service, (or) have to help" the gay community.

Walter Fortson, 26, a junior, agreed.

"It was a prank gone too far. I just don't think (jail time) is the answer," Fortson said. "It's been made to seem like a hate crime, but as far as the facts go it didn't seem like that. If he is homophobic or whatever the claims are, going to prison isn't going to make him any less homophobic."

Contributing: Alesha Williams Boyd, Asbury Park Press; Associated Press