Dharun Ravi, the 19-year-old former roommate of Tyler Clementi, the gay Rutgers student who killed himself last fall after Ravi filmed him making out with another male student, appeared in court today and “affirmed his decision to go to trial,” NBC reports. Ravi has been charged with two counts of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. According to NBC, “A judge set a trial date of Feb. 21 for the case, which helped set off a national conversation about bullying of young gays and lesbians.”
And yet – the court says – Clementi’s subsequent suicide is irrelevant in the privacy case against Ravi, who was also charged with three counts of evidence tampering and one count of witness tampering, “in that, according to prosecutors, he attempted to mislead investigators and witnesses in various ways during the investigation,” People magazine reports. They also note that “Molly Wei, the other defendant in the case, agreed last May to testify against Ravi in exchange for being accepted into a program for first-time offenders. Wei, 19, has to perform 300 hours of community service, undergo counseling and work fulltime (or part-time if she is in school). If she successfully meets those conditions, the two invasion-of-privacy charges against her will be dismissed after three years.”
Some in the gay community even have questioned the bias charges against Ravi, like Marc Poirier, an openly gay professor at Seton Hall Law School who is an expert in the field of law, culture and sexuality. He told the New Jersey Star-Ledger:
This seems to me a very harsh use of New Jersey’s bias intimidation statute. I don’t think we have sufficient flexibility in the law to address what Ravi is alleged to have done, which is to taunt and embarrass but not to physically attack.
A bias charge is usually linked to an underlying crime involving violence, like murder, assault or vehicular homicide. But that’s not the kind of crime Ravi is charged with. He’s facing invasion of privacy charges, and the bias charge is linked to that.
Technically, Clementi’s suicide is irrelevant to what Ravi has been charged with, but it colors everybody’s point of view.
It’s important to note, as Poirier does, that “Invasion of privacy is listed in the bias intimidation statute, right along with murder, assault or vehicular homicide.” It seems clear to me that Ravi was only invading Clementi’s privacy to taunt him about being gay, so the bias charge makes perfect sense to me. If convicted, Ravi faces 10 years in prison.