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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dorm Webcam Witchhunt Continues With Indictments

The tragic case of Rutgers freshman and suicide victim Tyler Clementi continues with today's news that Clementi's roommate Dharan Ravi was indicted by a Middlesex County, NJ grand jury on various criminal counts including invasion of privacy.

Ravi, also an 18-year-old freshman, faces jail for the essentially political crime of web streaming video of his roommate having a romantic encounter -- with another male -- in the dorm room shared with Ravi. (Another freshman accomplice, Molly Wei, faces charges too but the grand jury has not yet indicted her.)

Several questions must be asked here.

Is it criminal to web-record activities occurring in your own room? If so, when does your room stop being your room? 

Does your roommate have the right to kick you out in order to engage in certain activities? (Do some roommates have this privilege, and not others?) What activities might those be? And does it make a difference if the activities are engaged in solo, with an opposite-sex friend, or same-sex friend?

Is Ravi really being charged with minor crimes in order to punish him for Tyler Clementi's suicide? I mean, it's not as if Dharan Ravi drove Tyler to the George Washington Bridge and threw him off it.

(Speaking of which, who is the "other man" supposedly on tape?  Could this "other man" have had a nefarious role here?  Certainly the "other man" might have been interested in covering up his involvement in the romantic encounter.  Could the "other man" have had a role in Tyler's murder?)

And if Tyler's encounter was with a female, would we be hearing anything about bullying?

I mean, is the real crime here that a student was being bullied for having a same-sex encounter? And while distasteful and objectionable, does such action really rise to the level of a felony? Is this worth putting someone in jail? Are we as a society so intent on modifying behavior or compelling "acceptance" that we must resort to criminal prosecution and imprisonment in the hope of deterring bullying?

None of these questions are meant to criticize the gay community, which is right to raise the issue of gay-bashing and bullying. However, bullying comes in many forms and these distasteful, juvenile actions may have been repeated if this had been an opposite-sex encounter.

Moreover, it should be said that some objections to the Ravi prosecution are really grounded in -- and heavily cloaked to disguise -- an objection to homosexuality.

There can be punishment...punishment of the actor which fits the act committed by the actor. Punish Ravi for what Ravi did -- and not for what Tyler Clementi allegedly did. (As indicated above, I am not totally sold on this being a suicide.)

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who handles and investigates complex cutting-edge matters. He may be reached for further comment at edixon@NYBusinessCounsel.com.

 

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