Sentence in Rutgers Webcam Case Sparks Debate Over Invasion of Privacy & Hate Crimes Laws
National attention was drawn to the New Jersey criminal justice system this week during the culmination of the Dharun Ravi case. Ravi was convicted on 15 different charges stemming from his conduct while a student at the University of Rutgers. The twenty-year old allegedly set a web camera up in his college dorm room to record—and stream online—a sexual encounter between his roommate and an older male. A few days after the event, the roommate, twenty-year old Tyler Clementi, committed suicide.
Last week a judge in the case sentenced Ravi to 30 days in jail. Some have questioned whether the sentence was severe enough. The prosecutors actually made the rare move of appealing the judge’s sentence ruling. They claim that they did not ask the judge for the maximum sentence in this case because they assumed that the conviction for multiple offenses would warrant more than one month in jail.
Our Burlington county criminal defense attorney appreciates that it is important to separate the emotions of these incidents from the details of the law itself. This case involved a range of alleged crimes, but most of the attention has been drawn to invasion of privacy issues and hate crimes laws.
New Jersey Invasion of Privacy
In general, invasion of privacy laws in our state seek to protect individuals from invasion in situations where they have a reasonable expectation not to be observed. New Jersey invasion of privacy laws are codified as N.J.S.2C: 14-9.
The statute refers specifically to conduct by an individual without permission (license or privilege) to view others engaged in sexual acts or otherwise physically exposed. The degree of the crime changes if the individual records or captures the conduct or if he disseminates a recording or capture.
New Jersey Hate Crime Laws
Perhaps the more controversial issue in the Ravi case involved application of New Jersey’s bias intimidation law. The law is codified as NJSA SC: 16-1. Essentially these laws act as an added crime when different offenses—such as invasion of privacy—are committed with certain purposes or motivations. In this case the issue was whether the crimes were committed to intimidate Clementi because of his sexual orientation. The Bias charge elevated the third degree crime of Invasion of Privacy, with exposure of three (3) to five (5) years State Prison and a presumption against incarceration for first time offenders, to a second degree crime, which carries five (5) to ten (10) years in State Prison and a presumption of imprisonment.
In returning a sentence of 30 days, far below the presumptive range of five (5) to ten (10) years in State Prison, the judge in the case explained that it was his view that the bias intimidation laws were only “meant to apply to cases that involve violence or threat violence.” The judge did not find that here. He continued by noting that “I am not condoning what this gentleman did. I’m not defending it. I’m not minimizing it. But I think that’s what the legislature had in mind when they adopted this statute.”
Experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyers understand that no matter how distasteful conduct might be, it is imperative that laws be applied appropriately and fairly. Piling on charges and lengthening sentences based on emotion—and not the letter of the law—must be guarded against.
New Jersey Criminal Defense
The criminal justice system only works properly when all those charged with crimes receive the best defense possible. Rooting out truth requires that prosecutors be forced to fully prove each element of a crime and eliminate all reasonable doubts about an individual’s guilt. If you have been charged with a crime in our area, it is vital that you seek out a Burlington County criminal defense attorney who will demand that your best defense be brought forward.
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