After fielding criticism in emails, blogs and newspaper columns, a judge this week defended his decision to give a 30-day jail sentence to the former Rutgers student who used a webcam to spy on his gay roommate.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman said the punishment is harsh enough to deter others from doing the same thing, but not so severe that it will dump 20-year-old Dharun Ravi into prison with hardened criminals.
“I can’t find it in me to remand him to state prison that houses people convicted of offenses such as murder, armed robbery and rape,” Berman said. “I don’t believe that fits this case. I believe he has to be punished and he will be.”
Ravi reported to jail on May 31 to start serving his sentence.
In March, a jury found Ravi guilty of 15 criminal charges, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. He used his webcam in September 2010 to stream – and view – seconds of live video of roommate Tyler Clementi and another man kissing, and told others they could watch another encounter two days later. Clementi jumped to his death from New York City’s George Washington Bridge just days after the ordeal began.
Some gay rights activists have portrayed his story as a prime example of the consequences of bullying young gays. And Ravi’s defenders see him as a scapegoat for a death that they don’t believe he was responsible for – and was not charged with.
Berman said he wanted to explain further the sentence he handed down last week largely because it’s being appealed by prosecutors, who say it’s too lenient, and he wanted to provide appellate judges for a clear rationale for his decision.
His amplification came during a hearing to clear the way for Ravi to report to jail – even though he could have remained free while prosecutors appeal the sentence. His lawyer said he would also begin working on his 300 hours of community service and start paying the more than $11,000 in fines and assessments that are part of his punishment.
Ravi requested permission on May 29 to start serving as he apologized for the first time for his actions, which he described in a statement as “thoughtless, insensitive, immature, stupid and childish.” In court May 30, Ravi answered questions from his lawyer and Berman but did not say any more about his apology.
Ravi’s lawyer Joseph Benedict said he’s still appealing the conviction altogether.
To start serving while the prosecutor’s appeal looms, Ravi had to agree to waive his protection from double jeopardy. He is now not allowed to argue that he’s already served his time if prosecutors prevail on their appeal and give him a longer sentence.
It’s not clear whether he will serve the full 30 days. In most cases, New Jersey county jail inmates with 30-day sentences automatically have them reduced by 10 days for good behavior. A warden at Middlesex County Jail was not immediately available to say whether that would apply to Ravi.
Clementi’s parents, who had been fixtures in the courtroom for Ravi’s previous appearances and throughout a trial that lasted three weeks, did not attend on May 30.
During the hearing, Berman reiterated something he said last week when he sentenced Ravi: Even though bias intimidation is usually referred to as a hate-crime, he does not believe that title fits this case. “I don’t defend his actions against Tyler Clementi, nor does he,” Berman said. “I don’t think it was motivated by hatred, and I’ll stand on that.”
The judge said that he believes lawmakers who crafted New Jersey’s bias intimidation laws expected it to be applied mostly in cases involving assaults or violence – not one like this.
For that reason, he said, justice would be served by handing down a sentence well under the usual 5-to-10 year range for a second-degree crime such as bias intimidation.
And he said he sees the $10,000 he ordered Ravi to pay to a group for bias-crime victims as a major part of the punishment.
Berman, a former prosecutor in the county, clashed in court with Middlesex First Assistant Prosecutor Julia McClure over both the need for a written order on the day’s proceedings and the wording of it.
He also asked the prosecutor what she believed an appropriate sentence would have been.
She said five years.
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