Along with the Mattapan Massacre trial, another matter involving death is reaching the climax of its trial This one is from New Brunswick, New Jersey. It is the trial of Dharun Ravi (hereinafter, the “Defendant”). This was a matter that also hit the headlines when it took place. The would-be complainant of the matter is dead, although the Defendant is not charged with homicide.
The Defendant is the former Rutgers student who is accused of spying on his roommate…with a webcam. The roommate was gay and having a relationship with another man in their room. The roommate, not “out”, is said to have been so mortified by the experience, that he took his own life.
This case is not being tried as a “bullying” case, per se, although, when it took place, it renewed the national debate about bullying.
I am not sure if New Jersey is lucky enough to have an Anti-Bullying statute as strong as ours is. After all, there has to be a reason that the Commonwealth’s legislators were slapping each other on the back and falling over themselves claiming that the bill they had just passed, quicker than the wink of an eye, was the “strongest” in the country. Since the new law does nothing to stop the turmoil that is being faced each day in instances of alleged bullying…and, in fact, seems to merely confuse matters, it cannot be the effectiveness. It can’t be the penalties. There are none. But then, I suppose that is a legislative atrocity for another day.
Back to New Jersey…whatever laws it has.
We do know that the Garden State has criminal statutes against bias intimidation as a hate crime, invasion of privacy, and hindering apprehension. These are the charges which the Defendant is facing.
Much of the testimony, thus far, has involved the question of whether the Defendant was homophobic. He says he is not. Some witnesses say he does not seem to be…others testified about his being “uncomfortable” having a gay man as a roommate.
The defense has tried to portray the Defendant, 18 at the time and just out of high school, as someone who acted childish, but is not a criminal or a bigot.
While the Defendant is not charged with homicide, the death of his roommate certainly looms large over the proceedings. It certainly loomed large over the national debate about bullying and hate crimes.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Cyber-Crimes And Hate Crimes
First of all, I am a Boston criminal attorney. Well, actually over in Cambridge more often these days. At any rate, I do not practice in New Jersey and so am not an expert in the nuances of their criminal laws and proceedings.
However, this case does bring up interesting issues which raise their heads here in the Commonwealth as well.
For today, let’s look at some of charges the Defendant faces.
“Why isn’t the Defendant facing homicide charges if the government believes that he was responsible for the young man’s death?”
Probably because prosecuting the case that way would have brought a bunch of extra baggage into issue which might cloud the way to a conviction. Strategically, it was probably a smart decision.
“Do prosecutors manage prosecutions by way of ‘strategy’?”
Of course they do. They are advocates. Winning looks good. Losing looks bad.
Two of the primary class of crimes with which the Defendant is charged are cyber-crimes and hate crimes.
The cyber-crime, of course, involves the invasion of privacy. This would appear to be a “no brainer” as there does not seem to be much doubt about the cyber viewing/recording of the roommate and his rendezvous.
As we have discussed, there is no crime called “cyber-crime”. Like domestic violence or bullying, the crime is the plain ordinary assault and battery, harassment, etc. The difference, though, is the surrounding circumstance. In this case, the invasion of privacy was done via the computer and web.
Similarly, a hate crime is not a crime in and of itself. It is the perspective of the crime which signals that the underlying crimes will likely be handled more seriously.
In this case, the state contends that the Defendant did what he did because he “hates” gay people.
“But, Sam, this is America! Aren’t we free to hate whomever we hate?”
Sure. Hate away! However, it becomes a crime when one acts out because of it…recent political debates about gay marrage and the like notwithstanding.
Of course, this is not a political blog, so much as a criminal justice system blog. So, we will go back to pretending that we really do believe in equality to all.
For the original article upon which this blog is based, please go to http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/03/state_to_rest_its_case_against.html