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Thursday, September 30, 2010
Christie Accuses Rutgers Webcam Duo Of Causing Suicide, Taints Jury Pool
New Jersey Governor -- and former U.S. Attorney -- Chris Christie succeeded in tainting the jury pool for any criminal trial of the two Rutgers University students charged with multiple criminal counts of invasion of privacy for web-streaming a fellow student and roommate's sexual encounter with another man, when he accused the two students of having driven the young man to commit suicide.
There is no definitive proof that the webcam caused or resulted in the student's suicide. No "causal connection" has been proven. And certainly no properly thorough investigation into the facts has been concluded. We have only the plausible inference -- one competing among many -- that the webcam spying (which was morally wrong) and subsequent transmission of images depicting sexual activity may have helped precipitate the young man's suicide. We are far, far away from having proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
But don't let the facts or proper procedures in following an investigation into a sensitive matter get in the way. Note this quote from Governor Christie:
[The two suspects] "...[know] that they contributed to driving that young man to that alternative [the suicide]."
This sure sounds like passing judgment and being a statement which may be raised by defense counsel as having potentially tainted the jury pool enough to deprive the defendants of their right to a fair trial. Christie has basically declared the two students to be criminals, to have caused the suicide.
As stated before, the students' reported acts are both wrong and -- in a narrow and limited sense -- criminal as defined under state law. However, the youth of the alleged perpetrators argues strongly against criminal intent having played a role here, and in favor of the stupidity of youth having played the lead role. Moreover, there is an issue of prosecutorial discretion in bringing a case where intent may not be apparent and where this may simply have been a tragedy all around. Sadly, the gay-sex nature of the salacious events may spur enough gay-rights-lobby pressure that a criminal prosecution, perhaps for crimes as serious as manslaughter and the deprivation of civil rights, may be brought in order to appease the blood lust of street protestors.
Eric Dixon is a New York small business lawyer and privacy advocate who comments on various legal issues touching on technology, civil and constitutitonal rights. He can be reached for comment and consultation at 917-696-2442 and by e-mail at edixon@NYBusinessCounsel.com.