The Indictment of Dharun Ravi

elph's picture

If you have been even minimally attentive to the papers over the past few days, you cannot have escaped noting that Rutgers student (now ex-student) Dharun Ravi has been indicted (charged?) for having contributed to the very tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi.

As you must be aware, Ravi secretly videotaped a gay encounter of his Rutgers' roommate (Tyler Clementi)... and posted that video on the internet for all to view.

Is it reasonable to assume that Ravi knew with absolute certainty that his invasion of Clementi's privacy and the subsequent publishing of that video would result in extreme mental anguish for his roommate?

The only reasonable answer is a resounding YES... He had to know!

Would he have undertaken a similar videotaping and publishing had his roommate's encounter been heterosexual? Probably not... Ravi likely thought it would be great fun to see his gay roommate humiliated.

Does this act qualify as a "hate" crime...? Dunno... Categorizing the crime in this manner (or otherwise) will not help Tyler Clementi!

The question arises: Has one committed a punishable crime if his actions result in the victim being so traumatized mentally that he chooses suicide? What if, instead, the victim was being physically tortured... and suicide was chosen as a means of escape. In this latter circumstance wouldn't the perpetrator be guilty of murder... or, at least, (negligent) manslaughter?

Should there be a distinction?

It seems that the papers are divided as to exactly how Ravi should be prosecuted.

One article (in today's New York Post) seems to argue that this case should be treated as something similar to a "prank" which just, unintentionally, went horribly wrong. How was Ravi to have known that Clementi would have succumbed to taking his own life?

I am exceedingly angry with the such as Dharun Ravi. I abhor torture (both mental and physical)... but I'd really like to see Ravi suffer some form of anguish for this totally distasteful act... and the suicide that resulted.

Tyler Clementi should not be portrayed as having shown weakness for his suicide... but I'm fearful that this is the direction that some editorialists would have us go.

What do you think the verdict and punishment should be for Dharun Ravi?


swimmerguy's picture


Studies show that a soothing touch produces soothing neurochemicals, while an angry shout in a grating voice produces a painful brain state in the target.
Should he be punished for murder?
Naw, I don't think so. He didn't directly kill him.
Manslaughter, very possibly.

Because, as I said before, causing psychological pain of that magnitude creates pain as real as physical torture.
As the suicide demonstrates, anything that Ravi did obviously hurt Clementi to an extreme level.
I can't say that it was the only factor leading to the suicide, I imagine it wasn't, it was just the thing that pushed him over the edge.

Anyway, I think Ravi, no matter what he says, knew exactly that what he was doing was unwarranted and would cause Clementi severe distress, and have a total invasion of his privacy.
Did he want or expect Clementi to commit suicide? I really don't believe he did.
But he knew that what he was doing was mean, and would cause severe pain to Clementi.
So, I think he should be prosecuted for manslaughter because when acting, for one, his actions were completely unsolicited and unnecessary, and he failed to take into account that what he is doing might just be enough to push a roomate over the edge.
When one acts, they need to take responsibility for his actions, because as was explained in Drivers Ed to me, if you set your car in park but don't set the parking brake, and then a car smashes into your parked one from behind and sets it rolling into another, the car yours rolled into would be your responsibility to fix.
It was partly someone else's fault, and there's no reason to expect that a car will rear end your parked car, but that could easily be prevented by one thing :set your parking break.

So, he should have taken into account the possibility that it could happen, and be willing to accept the consequences since it did.
So I think he should be convicted of manslaughter.

However, he probably won't, because it has to be proven in court that his actions directly caused the death of Tyler Clementi. Which is hella hard to prove.

Uncertain's picture

Yes! I love criminal law!

Chad is quite right about the manslaughter thing. To be guilty of a crime one needs to commit both the actus reus (guilty act) and possess the mens rea (state of mind).

Ravi would likely fail the 'subjective' mens rea test required for murder ie. intention and recklessness - as he probably did not intend to 'kill' Clementi nor foresaw the risk of 'killing' him. Nonetheless, for the 'objective' test if it could be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a resonable person would 1) foresee the risk and 2) not run the risk, then he could be 'proven' to be negligent. However negligence has to be gross negligence, which is probably the harder obstacle to convict him, because in the interest of not overextending the criminal law, a major departure from the standard of care expected of reasonable person is required. The thing about criminal law (and all law) is that court judgments do not exist in isolation, and while it may seem 'just' to convict someone in one instance, we must consider whether to do so in light of how it might be used as precedent in the future in limiting autonomy.

This case reminds me of New Zealand case where there was a dress up party, and party A played a prank on party B by setting fire to his costume with a lighter. What was originally intended as 'humour' resulted in tragedy and party A was convicted of (negligent) manslaughter.

However that is merely analogous, I am sure there are many points of differentiaton. I also find it hard to attribute the actus reus to Ravi because in law there is something called novus actus interveniens - the intervening act. It could be argued that Clementi's response (suicide) is not a reasonably foreseeable response and therefore is an intervening act that interferes the causal chain between Ravi and Clementi's death - absolving Ravi of culpability.

Note: This is not necessarily what I think should happen nor what is morally right, but merely what the law is.

elph's picture

Of course...

Thanks for the correction; "(negligent) manslaughter" describes the circumstances far better than what I originally posted: "aggravated manslaughter."

I've corrected the text.

And... Yours and swimmerguy's well-thought-out comments are truly appreciated.

Uncertain's picture

not a problem, glad to see

not a problem, glad to see you're starting to post journals!