By Julie Bolcer
Originally published on Advocate.com May 21 2012 7:37 AM ET
Dharun Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in prison and 300 hours of community service on Monday for his role in the webcam spying incident that preceded the death of his gay Rutgers University roommate Tyler Clementi.
“This individual was not convicted of a hate crime,” said New Jersey Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman. “He was convicted of a bias crime, and there’s a difference. I say this because I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi. He had no reason to. But I do believe he acted out of colossal insensitivity."
Judge Berman ordered Ravi, 20, to report to the adult correctional center in Middlesex at 9 a.m. on May 31 to serve a 30-day jail term as part of a probationary sentence, with other conditions. The three-year probationary term includes 300 hours of community service and a $10,000 assessment to be paid to a state-affiliated group that assists bias crime victims. The judge also ordered Ravi to attend, in his words, a “counseling program relative to cyber-bullying and ‘alternative lifestyles.’”
Prior to issuing the sentence, the judge said that he did not believe that Ravi, who has no prior record, would commit another offense and that he would respond to probationary treatment. However, he said that the sentence was necessary to deter others, “even if it isn’t a deterrent to you.”
“Nothing I say in any way is intended to disparage or demean you,” said Judge Berman at the start of remarks that lasted about 30 minutes. “I don’t even know you. Whatever I say is said for the purpose of there being a record.”
“I heard this jury say ‘guilty’ 288 times, and I haven’t heard you apologize once,” he said sternly to Ravi who, contrary to custom, did not stand up as he was being sentenced. The judge pointedly noted that he remained seated, but said he was not taking that into account.
“The sentence I am imposing, which both sides may take issue with, in my view needs to constitute a measured response,” said the judge. “It should be balanced, and if possible, constructive, and if possible, providing a measure of closure.”
Attorneys for both sides expressed their displeasure with the sentence to Judge Berman, but he said that he had no intention of granting a stay. The prosecution said it planned to appeal, but the judge said he did not believe that an appellate question exists that needed to be addressed.
Garden State Equality, the statewide LGBT lobbying group that had called for a “balanced” response, issued a statement suggesting that the sentence was too lenient.
“We opposed throwing the book at Dharun Ravi,” said chairman Steven Goldstein. “We have spoken out against giving him the maximum sentence of 10 years in jail and against deporting him. That would have been vengeance beyond punishment and beyond sending a message to the rest of society.
“But we have similarly rejected the other extreme that Ravi should have gotten no jail time at all, and today’s sentencing is closer to that extreme than the other,” he said. “This was not merely a childhood prank gone awry. This was not a crime without bias.”
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has a vacation home in New Jersey with her new spouse Kim Catullo, slammed the sentence and said that the "system of justice has failed."
"Dharun Ravi’s bullying contributed to Tyler’s death," she said in a statement. "Yet, Mr. Ravi has shown no remorse and accepted no responsibility in the case. Still, the court sentenced him to only 30 days in jail. This is an outrageous slap in the face to all who believe in equal justice for all. I support the prosecution as they go forward and appeal this ruling."
Campus Pride, the national network for LGBT student leaders and allies, focused on the lessons of the Ravi case for colleges and universities without commenting on the sentencing.
“Every person has a responsibility to stand up for those who experience bullying and harassment – tragedies can be averted anytime even a single voice speaks out for the voiceless,” said executive director Shane Windmeyer. “Bystanders – those who witness bullying or harassment and do nothing to stop it – can plead neither ignorance nor innocence. Active silence can be as damaging as active bullying and result in tragedies like Clementi’s death.”
Ravi was convicted in March of bias intimidation and invasion of privacy. He faced a maximum of 10 years in prison and possible deportation to his native India. The judge said that he would recommend that Ravi not be deported, but any violation of probation will expose him to state prison time.
Ravi's parents addressed the court prior to his sentencing. Also offering statements were Clementi's parents, his brother James, and the man known as M.B., who was captured on the webcam with Clementi.
In letters filed to the court earlier this month, friends portrayed Ravi as a good person who had no malicious intent in the recording and broadcasting of an intimate encounter between Tyler Clementi and another man. Clementi committed suicide in 2010 by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.
On Sunday, the New York Times reported on growing calls for a more lenient sentence from Ravi supporters, as well as some gay rights advocates and former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, who left office in 2004 after having an affair with a male adviser.
“The criminal justice system worked, this time for a gay victim,” Mr. McGreevey wrote in an op-ed for the Star-Ledger. “But there was something disquieting about the prospect of retributive punishment being meted out on behalf of a gay young man.”