The Case of Dharun Ravi: Analysis of the Bias Intimidation Verdict

Mr. Dharun Ravi was charged with invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, as well as other relatively less onerous criminal charges related to allegations of witness and evidence tampering. As a general overview, the invasion of privacy charges arose out of Ravi allegedly utilizing a webcam to personally view the alleged victim, Mr. Tyler Clementi, preparing to have sex with another man, as well as transmitting the video feed to other third parties. Ravi and Clementi shared a dorm room at Rutgers University. Clementi had committed suicide some time later. The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office pursued criminal charges against Ravi following an investigation and discovery of the circumstances surrounding the suicide of Clementi.

Ravi was found guilty on March 16, 2012 of numerous charges, most notably invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. Although Ravi was found guilty of both third and second degree bias intimidation for observing Clementi on Sept. 19, it should be noted that the justifications for the third degree guilty verdict are slightly contradictory to the second degree findings of guilt for bias intimidation.

As to the third degree bias intimidation charge for the incident on Sept. 19, the jury only found Ravi guilty under the NJSA 2C:16-1(a)(3) sub-section and not guilty on the other bias intimidation sub-sections. In contrast, as to the second degree bias intimidation charge for the very same incident on Sept. 19, the jury found Ravi guilty under both NJSA 2C:16-1(a)(2) and 2C:16-1(a)(3). This is interesting, considering that under the lesser third degree charge of bias intimidation, the jury specifically found Ravi not guilty under the NJSA 2C:16-1(a)(2) sub-section, according to the reviewed verdict sheet made available by the media.

Had the defendant been found not guilty on the third degree grading of the bias intimidation charge, it is likely that the second degree guilty verdict would not stand, as it is a lesser included grading of the crime. But this is not the case here.

Ultimately, it is likely that the jury’s choice of sub-section in finding guilt for bias intimidation, will be irrelevant, as the statute only requires either one of the three sub-sections of NJSA 2C:16-1(a) for holding a defendant liable for bias intimidation.

In order to clarify the terms and statutory provisions for the readers, pursuant to NJSA 2C:16-1, bias intimidation essentially acts to aggravate a variety of underlying offenses and crimes, increasing the penal repercussions for defendants. I have added the following excerpt for your consideration.

a. Bias Intimidation. A person is guilty of the crime of bias intimidation if he commits, attempts to commit, conspires with another to commit, or threatens the immediate commission of an offense specified in chapters 11 through 18 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes; N.J.S.2C:33-4; N.J.S.2C:39-3; N.J.S.2C:39-4 or N.J.S.2C:39-5,

(1) with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity; or
(2) knowing that the conduct constituting the offense would cause an individual or group of individuals to be intimidated because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity; or
(3) under circumstances that caused any victim of the underlying offense to be intimidated and the victim, considering the manner in which the offense was committed, reasonably believed either that (a) the offense was committed with a purpose to intimidate the victim or any person or entity in whose welfare the victim is interested because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity, or (b) the victim or the victim’s property was selected to be the target of the offense because of the victim’s race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity.

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