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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why The Innocent Need Lawyers

Since the beginning of the tragedy involving Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi and the alleged webcam spying, of which fellow frosh Dharan Ravi and Molly Wei are suspects, the wave of commentary from public officials, members of the legal community (aka "the Bar") and various activists has evoked an image of a shoot-first-ask-questions-later witchhunt.

As I first theorized last week, there would likely be a push to see if there were a way to charge Ravi and Wei with serious crimes, in essence, to find a way to hold them criminally responsible for Clementi's suicide.  At the time, I stated that it would be very unlikely to find a causal connection between what amounts to little more than a prank, using high tech, and some very tragic and equally unforeseeable consequences.  Now it is appearing that the local prosecutor (Middlesex County prosecutor Bruce Kaplan) is starting to acknowledge that there may not be enough evidence to upgrade charges against Ravi and Wei from invasion of privacy -- a low-level crime that might get them probation -- to some much more serious state criminal charge like a hate crime or even manslaughter.  

As stated here before, what Dharan Ravi and Molly Wei did (that is, allegedly) was foolish, juvenile and disrespectful of another's basic privacy.  Whether there was a valid expectation of privacy -- as the recorded events also took place in Ravi's dorm room -- is a valid issue to be addressed at another time.  However, it is very questionable whether their alleged actions really amount to any crime at all.

Had Clementi not done any harm to himself, it is virtually certain there would be no discussion and no chance of a prosecution.  Therefore, it follows that Clementi's suicide is the cause but for which there would be no drive to prosecute these two other students.  

Accordingly, any drive to prosecute Dharan Ravi or Molly Wei seems motivated by the end result for Clementi.  One cannot even call his suicide "the effect" of any of Ravi's or Wei's actions, as drawing a "causal connection" between the two is highly speculative and probably, in the end, flat out incorrect.

This is why the innocent need lawyers -- and criminal defense lawyers -- more than the guilty.  The rush to judgment, the blood lust of the blogosphere mob, the mainstream media, and the gay rights activists -- who did more to destroy the privacy of and "out" Clementi, who may not even be "gay," than any video on the Internet -- show that someone who is entirely innocent but caught up in the wrong crowd or simply too close to a bad event can easily be wrongfully accused, wrongfully investigated, wrongfully prosecuted and, too often, wrongfully convicted.

Eric Dixon is a New York small business lawyer and president of Eric Dixon LLC.  Since graduating from Yale Law School in 1994, Mr. Dixon has represented various businesses and people on legal matters including business due diligence, litigation, government investigations and sensitive negotiations.  Mr. Dixon now handles lawsuit stress management and litigation counseling to help those being investigated, threatened or sued help cope with, withstand and overcome the emotional stresses of life-changing litigation.  Mr. Dixon is available for consultation or comment at 917-696-2442 and via e-mail at

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