A New Jersey appeals court overturned Dharun Ravi‘s conviction on charges related to his webcam spying on his roommate, former Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide shortly thereafter.
Ravi was convicted in 2012 on 15 charges, including counts of bias intimidation, a portion of which the state Supreme Court has since invalidated, ruling that it was “constitutionally vague.”
The three judge panel ruled that his prosecution on these charges “tainted the jury’s verdict on the remaining charges,” determining that he therefore did not receive a fair trial, The New York Times reports. They have ordered a new trial on the charges not related to bias intimidation, such as invasion of privacy and tampering with evidence.
The Times notes that the state’s bias crime law differed from that of many other states, writing, “It said defendants could be convicted if their victims ‘reasonably believed’ that they were harassed or intimidated because of a characteristic such as race or sexual orientation.”
Last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that it was the defendant’s intent that mattered, not the victim’s perception of events.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office now has to decide if it will appeal to the state Supreme Court, retry Ravi, or drop the case entirely.
Ravi originally faced up to 10 years in prison, but was sentenced to 30 days, three years probation, 300 hours of community service and to pay $10,000 to a program to help victims of hate crimes. He served 20 days of the 30 day prison sentence.
The appellate court condemned Ravi’s actions, even while overturning the conviction, with Judge Jose Fuentes writing for the court, “The social environment that transformed a private act of sexual intimacy into a grotesque voyeuristic spectacle must be unequivocally condemned in the strongest possible way.”
Clementi’s parents, Joe and Jane Clementi, wrote a reaction to the decision, posted to the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s website:
Joe and I are not legal experts so we cannot interpret the law. All we can do is try to understand and deal with are the facts as we know them now.
We know that Tyler’s private moments were stolen from him and used to humiliate him. His life was forever affected and the lives of those who knew and loved him have been forever changed.
In light of today’s decision, we will do what we encourage all people to do before they push that send button, and that is to pause and consider the implications of their message. Does it encourage and build someone up or does it destroy and harm another person?
Our world moves very fast which pushes us to be impulsively spontaneous and sometimes harsh.
Today’s decision shows us how much more work there is to be done, and will push us forward with stronger determination to create a kinder more empathic society where every person is valued and respected. We will continue to work even harder sharing Tyler’s story through the Tyler Clementi Foundation and our many partners
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