Rutgers Student Gets Light Sentence

After being convicted of using a computer webcam to capture his roommate engaging in sexual relations with another man, Dharun Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail by a judge in New Brunswick, N.J., yesterday morning. The former Rutgers University student was also sentenced to 300 hours of community service, counseling, and a $10,000 fine.

According to the presiding judge, Ravi had invaded the privacy of his roommate, Tyler Clementi. For his actions, Ravi faced a maximum of ten years in prison.

“I’m still not entirely sure as to what I really think of the length of the sentence,” Sanghyeon Park ’12, a personal friend of Tyler and a Crimson design editor, wrote in an email. “If I were in [Tyler’s] family’s situation, I think I would definitely want more than the thirty days.”

In September 2010, Dharun Ravi installed a webcam in the Rutgers dormitory he shared with his Clementi. With the help of a friend, he recorded Clementi having sex with another man Ravi streamed the video on the Internet and posted about it on his Twitter account. Three days later, Clementi committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge.

Ravi was indicted by a grand jury in April 2011, facing 15 charges including invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, and tampering with evidence. At the time, Harvard Law Professor and Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society John G. Palfrey ’94 wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed, “One challenge associated with these laws is to not criminalize behavior that is ordinary teenager-to-teenager banter while drawing a line well before the kinds of behavior that lead to a teenager’s suicide.”

Ravi’s 30-day sentence was widely viewed as comparatively light, and prosecutors and the Clementi family cancelled their planned statement following the sentencing.

“While no one expected Ravi to receive anything near the maximum provided by law, this is a surprisingly lenient sentence,” said Phil Malone, clinical professor of law at the Harvard Law School and director of the cyberlaw clinic. “Many people are likely to see the 30-day jail term as a slap on the wrist that won’t do enough to deter others from callous and harmful privacy invasions in the future.  This was a difficult case for the judge to find an appropriate sentence—one that reflected the extreme harm that resulted from Ravi’s horribly insensitive actions while not overreacting to a tragic outcome.”

Ben DeVore ’15, Political Co-Chair of the Harvard College Queer Students and Allies, echoed Park’s sentiment.

“I believe that such a lenient verdict cannot and will not erase the enormous pain and suffering that Tyler Clementi endured and that his family still face today,” he said.

—Staff writer Adam J. Conner can be reached at ajconner@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Dolapo F. Lawal can be reached at dlawal@college.harvard.edu.

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