Lawyers representing Dharun Ravi, a former Rutgers University student sentenced in May for using a webcam to spy on his roommate kissing another man, recently filed a notice of appeal on his behalf.
His attorneys are claiming that his hate crime conviction is unconstitutional.
Prior to this, the prosecution appealed. They contended that Mr. Ravi’s 30-day prison sentence was far too lenient.
Ravi’s roommate, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide in September 2010 after discovering that Ravi and a friend secretly streamed his romantic encounter with another man on the Internet and urged others to watch.
Mr. Ravi was convicted of 15 criminal counts. Among them were invasion of privacy, tampering with evidence, and bias intimidation.
Bias intimidation is a hate-crime charge that carries a potential penalty of 10 years behind bars.
In spite of this, the judge gave a rather light prison sentence.
He explained his rationale by saying, “I can’t find it in me to remand him to state prison that houses people convicted of offenses such as murder, armed robbery, and rape.”
However, in addition to serving nominal jail time, Mr. Ravi was also sentenced to three years of probation, 300 hours of community service, counseling, and a $10,000 fine.
Immediately after getting wind of what the prosecution believed to be an exceptionally light sentence, they filed an appeal.
The newest appeal, however, comes from Mr. Ravi’s defense counsel.
According to their side of the story, they were allegedly barred from obtaining critical evidence and that Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman’s actions “hindered the defendant’s ability to get a fair trial.”
Interestingly, the appeal did not explain why the hate-crime conviction was supposedly unconstitutional.
Law professors throughout the east coast recently weighed in on the debate.
Professor Marc Poirier of Seton Hall Law School noted that the argument for unconstitutionality might focus on the way bias is understood and ruled upon by a jury.
The jury ruled that Mr. Ravi did not knowingly or purposefully intimidate Mr. Clementi, but they found him guilty of a hate crime since Mr. Clementi “reasonably believed” he was targeted due to his sexual orientation.
Professor Poirier also highlighted why he thought this was problematic.
According to him, “This means that somebody is criminally liable solely on the basis of other people’s experiences, without any intent or knowledge that what you’re doing causes fear.”
Although Professor Poirier lauded the hate-crime legislation and the need to end school bullying, he strongly believes that there is merit in appealing the conviction because the usual signifiers of a hate crime were absent (viz. violent beating and bigoted slurs).
In contrast, Professor James Jacobs of New York University School of Law disagrees.
Although Professor Jacobs is a steadfast critic of hate-crime legislation, he expressed sincere doubts about the defense’s claim that the conviction is unconstitutional.
Ultimately, only time will tell if Mr. Ravi’s conviction is considered unconstitutional or not.
No matter what the end result is, it will almost certainly have a tremendous impact on the way the law looks at hate crimes.
If you have been charged with a crime in New Jersey, be sure to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today.