The former Rutgers student who secretly filmed Tyler Clementi's intimate encounter with another man before his suicide in 2010 wants his record cleared. Dharun Ravi was convicted of 15 criminal counts in 2012, including bias intimidation and invasion of privacy. He was sentenced to and served 30 days in jail.
Attorneys for Ravi, who was Clementi's roommate in the weeks before the Rutgers freshman took his own life in September 2010, argued in state appeals court Wednesday that their client's convictions must be vacated in light of a recent ruling from the state Supreme Court, according to New Jersey's Star-Ledger.
While Ravi was not in attendance at Wednesday's hearing before a three-judge panel on the state's court of appeals, his attorneys contend that he is entitled to a new trial after the state Supreme Court invalidated a key section of New Jersey's antibias statute last March. That decision struck down the "section of the statute that focused on the victim's state of mind and said it is the defendant's intent and state of mind that is important, not the victim's," reports the Star-Ledger's Sue Epstein.
The 2012 case that saw Ravi convicted of 15 criminal counts related to his setup and use of a webcam to view Clementi's intimate encounter focused heavily on Clementi's state of mind, Ravi's attorney told the court, according to the Star-Ledger. Throughout, Ravi's attorneys have maintained that his spying on Clementi was unrelated to the 18-year-old's suicide days after Ravi spied on Clementi's encounter. And in court on Wednesday, Ravi's attorney Steven Altman argued that last year's Supreme Court decision retroactively makes the premise on which Ravi was convicted unconstitutional, and therefore all charges against him should be overturned and Ravi's criminal record cleared.
"Even as prosecutors acknowledged that one count would have to be dismissed, the rest could stand — based on violations of Clementi's privacy, argued Joie Piderit, an assistant Middlesex County prosecutor," reports the Star-Ledger. "Questioning from appellate judges John Kennedy, Jose Fuentes, and Robert Gilson seemed to reveal some skepticism about the state's position that the convictions could stand on privacy grounds."
Although Clementi's family decided not to file a civil suit against Ravi for their son's death, Clementi's suicide sparked national outrage and a candid discussion of the deadly effect of anti-LGBT bullying.
Clementi's parents, who after their son's death founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation, an antibullying organization, were in court Wednesday and issued a statement to media after the hearing. The following statement was attributed to Jane Clementi, Tyler's mother:
“We are hopeful that the appellate court will analyze the legal issues it has been asked to review with depth and care so that the law in this important area will be well resonated and clear. [It has been] more than five years since Tyler’s roommate intruded upon Tyler’s privacy and exposed intimate images of our son to students in his dorm in the first days of their freshman year. Since then we and the Tyler Clementi Foundation have been working hard on the issue of bullying. In that five year period, the values of this country have evolved due to the good work and good intentions of many people and organizations. Americans — young and old — are more sensitive today to the enduring harm that bullying can cause, particularly to our most vulnerable young people. And many young people who might otherwise be drawn into bullying others are listening to their peers who see in bullying a sad reflection of the bully. What was perhaps tolerated with mild disapproval then is now seen by many as simply not acceptable. We are grateful for this progress.”