Criminalize Crime, Not Hate, Ctd

Mar 19 2012 @ 11:09am

Last Friday, a jury found Dharun Ravi guilty of, among other charges, "bias intimidation" against Tyler Clementi because of his sexual orientation. R.M. at DiA is troubled:

For many this will be seen as a victory against homophobia and cyberbullying. But others will see it as overkill by prosecutors bent on avenging the death of Mr Clementi. Despite holding nothing but contempt for Mr Ravi, I tend towards the latter interpretation. Society's harsh moral judgment of Mr Ravi could not be adequately reflected in the law, nor could the law properly account for Mr Clementi's suicide. So prosecutors piled bias intimidation charges on top of the more appropriate spying and tampering ones, essentially doubling the possible sentence, in an effort to express the public's disdain for the defendant and somehow balance Mr Ravi's callous acts with Mr Clementi's tragic death.

I find it repellent as well. This was a bigoted online hazing followed by a judicial witch-hunt. Jacob Sullum explains how tenuous the hate crime charges really were:

Under New Jersey's law, bigotry is not even necessary.

Assuming the underlying offense (in this case, invasion of privacy) was intentional, there need not be any evidence that the intimidation was. Surmising how Clementi felt in this situation based on the available evidence—in particular, distinguishing between anger and intimidation—is fraught with uncertainty, and the judgment as to whether his imagined feelings were reasonable is even harder to make. In a case like this, where the victim cannot testify about what he was thinking and no one else knows, these elements have reasonable doubt built into them. …

Had Clementi not killed himself a few days after what he dismissively called Ravi's "five sec peep," leading to the completely unproven conjecture that Ravi's spying drove him to suicide (a claim the prosecution never made during the trial), Ravi probably would not have faced criminal charges at all, let alone a possible 10-year sentence.

Earlier Dish coverage of the trial and my general take on hate crimes here.