Dharun Ravi's conviction overturned after court finds bias charges baseless
Former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi had his March 2012 conviction for Tyler Clementi’s death overturned after his defense maintained that the 2010 webcam incidents had nothing to do with Clementi’s suicide following an appeal by Ravi's legal team.
Clementi committed suicide in September 2010 after Ravi, his roommate, set up a webcam to film Clementi having a sexual encounter with another male, according to NJ Advance Media.
Ravi said he had a video of the encounter on his Twitter page. During the trial his attorney, along with co-defendant Molly Wei’s attorney, said the video did not show Clementi having intercourse, according to NJ Advance Media.
The video was not shared online or to others offline, according to the article. It was only seen on a single computer by Ravi and Wei, though Ravi did say he would go on to distribute the video on Twitter in 2010.
Wei testified against Ravi as part of a pre-trial intervention program which cleared her record, according to NJ Advance Media. Other conditions of the program included 300 hours of community service and counseling on cyberbullying and alternative lifestyles.
Ravi never intended to intimidate Clementi, Wei said. She also said Ravi did not dislike Clementi during the incident.
At the time, Ravi informed his Twitter followers that he would livestream a second encounter he expected Clementi to have, according to NJ Advance Media. This attempted livestream did not work, and Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge shortly after.
According to NJ Advance Media, the appellate court sided with Ravi’s attorneys, who argued his bias charges had no basis, and his conviction was reversed.
Ravi has already served his 30-day sentence and three years of probation after being charged. This overturned conviction will have no effect on his jail time, though it will clear Ravi’s record.
The decision on this high-profile case comes four years after Ravi’s original conviction. He was charged on several counts of bias intimidation, hindering his own apprehension and tampering with witnesses. This case also launched a national conversation about the problems of cyberbullying.
Several celebrities spoke out against bullying and cyberbullying after Clementi’s death, including Ellen DeGeneres, Madonna, Owen Pallet and Monica Lewinsky. The band Rise Against included Clementi’s name in the bridge of their song “Make it Stop (September’s Children).”
Ravi’s attorney, Steven Altman, told NJ Advance Media that the court cases are not yet completed, but he is “extraordinarily pleased” with the decision.
“I haven’t spoken with the Ravi family yet, but I can only imagine they’re pleased as well,” he said.
Altman said the New Jersey Supreme Court struck down “a portion of the state’s bias crime statute in a separate case," in a previous NJ Advance Media article.
The statute was deemed “unconstitutionally vague” and struck down by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Ravi was found guilty on bias intimidation charges among others.
Altman appealed his conviction partly due to these charges because the Supreme Court decision, which was released in March 2015, had an impact on Ravi’s appeal.
Another component of the appeal dealt with the trial itself — the judge prevented Ravi’s attorney from submitting evidence that could have indicated Clementi’s state of mind was unrelated to Ravi’s video, Altman said.
Altman plans to “work something out in a mutually acceptable way” once the prosecution decides whether or not to appeal the overturned case, he said. The prosecution has 20 days to decide whether or not to appeal to the State Supreme Court.
Until the prosecution comes to a decision, Ravi’s sentence will be cleared from his record.
Joe and Jane Clementi, Tyler Clementi’s parents, released a statement following the decision, saying they were not legal experts and could not speak to the legal aspect of the decision.
“All we can do is try to understand and deal with are the facts as we know them now,” they said. “We know that Tyler’s private moments were stolen from him and used to humiliate him. His life was forever affected and the lives of those who knew and loved him have been forever changed.”
They said they will continue to encourage people to “consider the implications” of sending a message online.
“Does (the message) encourage and build someone up or does it destroy and harm another person?” they said. “Today's decision shows us how much more work there is to be done, and will push us forward with stronger determination to create a kinder more emphatic society where every person is valued and respected.”
A Rutgers spokesperson declined to comment. Calls to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office and Ravi’s defense attorney were not returned.
Read the full decision:
Sophie Nieto-Munoz is a School of Communication and Information senior majoring in journalism and media studies and Italian. She is an editorial assistant for The Daily Targum. You can find her on Twitter @snietomunoz for more.
Nikhilesh De is the news editor of The Daily Targum. He is a School of Engineering senior. Follow him on Twitter @nikhileshde for more.