In what could become a landmark case that could reshape the criminal court system across the country, the cyber-bullying case of Dahrun Ravi has begun jury selection. Ravi is facing 10 years in prison for various charges, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. But if the court of public opinion had their druthers, he’d be on trial for manslaughter.
The victim of Ravi’s alleged crimes was Tyler Clementi, a gay student at Rutgers University who was Ravi’s roommate in the dorms and committed suicide. This case has been highly publicized for the past two years since Clementi took his life by jumping off of the George Washington bridge.
Prosecutors allege that Clementi killed himself after discovering that Ravi had captured a romantic encounter between himself and another man on webcam. While Ravi has already been cleared of any responsibility in the death of Clementi, prosecutors are trying to paint Ravi as a hateful homophobe who intentionally tried to intimidate and bully his roommate by recording a private moment.
Most experts agree that the prosecution has its work cut out for them. Both Clementi and Ravi had several exchanges with each other and with friends acknowledging their differences, but being overall indifferent to the other’s lifestyle choices.
Ravi’s criminal defense lawyer also plans on introducing an apology text from Ravi to Clementi expressing remorse for violating Clementi’s privacy by spying on his encounter via webcam the morning after the incident occurred. Furthermore, Clementi even texted Ravi, asking if he could use the room for a few hours for a second rendezvous with the same man he was caught on camera with. Ravi’s three word reply to that text: “Yeah, no problem.”
Evidence, especially the exchanges between Ravi and Clementi seem to suggest that while they might not have been perfect roommates, there was little to no animosity or hatred between the two prior to Clementi’s suicide.
Which calls into question exactly where the line is drawn in a court of law when it comes to cyber-bullying? At what point does a juvenile prank become a malicious act of intimidation? What Ravi did was morally and ethically wrong. But was it a crime?
Should Ravi be found guilty it would give criminal defense attorneys very little leeway when trying to defend a client accused of cyber-bullying. While bullying in general has been a hot button topic – deservedly so – it appears as though the court of public opinion focused on the wrong target without really understanding the facts first.