Thoughts about the Ravi sentence

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

Related Post Roulette

50 Responses

  1. DensityDuck says:

    Although, for the rest of his life, he’ll have to say “yes” when a form asks “have you ever been convicted of a crime and/or served time in prison?” And that’s going to have a significant effect on what he can do with that rest of his life.Report

  2. Ack. I didn’t realize I stepped on your post. Sorry about that, Doc.Report

  3. greginak says:

    I think being found innocent of the bias crimes was the right verdict, allthough i can’t say i’ve followed the case closely. He shouldn’t have been found guilty of causing the guys death, which, of course, he wasn’t charged with.. I have to say, though, that 30 days in jail and the other repursussions for the things he was found guilty of seems sort of light. Spying on somebody is not a prank or a joke. It is a massive invasion of privacy. The dude didn’t have an oops moment, he did something cr\uel and grossly wrong. What would people say if he had simply spyed on a woman in her room multiple times?Report

    • What would people say if he had simply spyed on a woman in her room multiple times?

      I think there would be predatory implications for that kind of behavior, which are absent in this case.

      To me, Ravi is guilty of being a heartless, insensitive prick, and should have faced heavy penalties from the Rutgers administration for (as you say) violating Clementi’s privacy in an egregious, appalling manner. But Clementi’s suicide, coming as it did during a period of intense scrutiny following similar suicides across the country (and I strongly suspect an element of contagion in his death), made that outcome highly unlikely.

      In any case, I think the true nature of Ravi’s punishment is the massive public opprobrium that he already faces, and which will likely follow him for quite some time.Report

      • greginak in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        How different is predatory impliations from homophobic hatred? I guess there is some, but not that much. Who can say what was in his mind, maybe he was secretly turned on by watching two dudes make out. Does that imply he had some predatory thoughts on his mind?Report

  4. Tod Kelly says:

    “It’s that lack of remorse that makes me think that all the sensitivity training in the world won’t make any difference for young Mr. Ravi. If he’s not sorry now (and given that he hasn’t said he is even when it would have served him well to do so, why should I generously speculate that he is secretly less of a cad than he appears?), then nobody will be able to talk him into it.”

    I have only been following this peripherally, so others will know better than I Mr. Ravi’s post-arraignment actions. But it does make me think of a situation we had at work where we were being sued by an ex-client who had had a very, very, very horrible thing happen to him. The details are immaterial, but I remember being counseled that until everything had worked it’s way through the snake of the legal system, we were never, ever to say we were sorry to hear what happened to them, or that we thought it was awful, or anything remotely human. If we were to do so, we were told, it would be used as self-incriminating testimony in front of a jury by the other side that what had happened was out fault and not his.

    I wonder how much of that is transferrable to a case like this. I wonder to what degree he is not sorry, and to what degree he was doing what his attorney told him he should do.Report

    • I can’t speak to most of this. I did get the distinct impression from the judge’s comments before handing down the sentence that there had been ample opportunity for Mr. Ravi to express contrition in a manner that would have been appropriate and expected, and would not have jeopardized him in any way (presumably including the period of time after he’d already been found guilty), during which time he had utterly failed to do so.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      It’s sort of like how you don’t say your sorry after a car accident, no matter what happened. Supposedly apologizing is an admission of guilt (can any of the JDs weigh in on whether this is actually true?).

      I watched some of the trial and he was oddly detached in a way suggesting it wasn’t simply a legal matter. He was practically spinning in his chair at one point. He seemed to think the whole thing was a joke, undeserving of his time. And MAYBE he was right… but that is not the way to carry yourself. That said to me that this guy just doesn’t get it. Even if you didn’t think what you did was wrong and you thought the trial was a PC farce, acting a douche doesn’t do you better. Either make that position clear or sit there and smile and nod and try to get off.Report

      • Scott in reply to Kazzy says:

        An apology maybe considered an admission of guilt and may fall under the statement againt interests exception to hearsay. I’m sure Clementi’s parents will file a civil suit so I would be careful what I said. That being said, the prosecution is appealing the sentance so this is not the end of the story.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Scott says:


          That still doesn’t explain or justify him acting a fool the whole time, but it explains why he didn’t publicly grovel, which would have been wholly useless unless we was motivated to do so of his own volition. Even if you disagree with the charges and everything about the proceedings, a court case is a serious matter, especially when you are the one facing jail time. Don’t act like a bored kid sitting in the principal’s waiting room.Report

      • Bad-ass Motherfisher in reply to Kazzy says:


        I was missing the BSK face. Nice to see it once again.Report

    • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      > I remember being counseled that until everything
      > had worked it’s way through the snake of the legal
      > system, we were never, ever to say we were sorry
      > to hear what happened to them, or that we thought
      > it was awful, or anything remotely human.

      Empirically, this is a bad idea.

      You can never, never turn a public relations nightmare around by thinking about the legal ramifications of your decisions. You’ll always wind up looking like an inhuman bastard, and that does not help your public relations nightmare, it just makes it far, far worse.

      The short term benefit (if any) of keeping your trap shut to make your legal liability case (or, even, your criminal case) easier to defend comes at the expense of making the outcome worse whether you win or lose.Report

  5. Burt Likko says:

    …the true nature of Ravi’s punishment is the massive public opprobrium that he already faces, and which will likely follow him for quite some time.

    While normally I’m not a fan of the media involving itself in criminal law, there is a place for public shaming as a form of response to certain kinds of crime. This strikes me as a situation in which public shame is properly applied.

    As for the point in the OP about the rest of us wanting him to feel what we feel, it occurs to me that confrontation and accusation can often cause a retrenchment of attitude rather than a reversal.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

      As for the point in the OP about the rest of us wanting him to feel what we feel, it occurs to me that confrontation and accusation can often cause a retrenchment of attitude rather than a reversal.


  6. James Vonder Haar says:

    I applaud your instinct to clemency, but in what world is brroadcasting a sexual encounter without the involved party’s permission or knowledge not a serious crime? Invasion of privacy is a felony in most states for a damn good reason. This kind of merciful hagiography can only reinforce the false impression that thes serious crimes are only youthful indiscretions, the kind of social license that “scamps” like Ravi who are perfectly capable of moral behavior thrive on to hide their crime. The end result might not mean any more teenagers throwing themselves off bridges, but it will mean that cads in freshmen dorms will continue their antisocial behavior without fear of social opprobrium or punishments from both their universities and the cops.

    Ravi was a college student, above the age of majority. There are many languishing in prison much younger than him merely for being pushed to engage in illicit commerce owing to their financial situation, or for exercising their sacrosanct right of bodily autonomy. Throw the book at the asshole.Report

    • Hagiography? What can you possibly mean by that?

      it will mean that cads in freshmen dorms will continue their antisocial behavior without fear of social opprobrium

      Really? You and I are observing two very different reactions to the Ravi case if you would describe it as lacking in social opprobrium.Report

      • Really? You and I are observing two very different reactions to the Ravi case if you would describe it as lacking in social opprobrium.

        No joke. I don’t think there’s anyone who would shrug off being in Ravi’s shoes right now.Report

      • James Vonder Haar in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        It is not lacking in social opprobrium precisely because not everyone is willing, as you are, to dismiss his behavior as run of the mill teenage assholery.Report

        • James, perhaps I have been unclear in this or my previous post. I think what Ravi did was reprehensible. I think he should have been expelled from school. I think he deserves a heaping helping of public scorn.

          That I think all of these things does not equate with believing it would be in any way helpful to send him to prison for ten years. If anything, as I say in my post above, it would dilute the efficacy of hate crime laws and perhaps lead to a backlash.Report

          • James Vonder Haar in reply to Russell Saunders says:

            I have no reason to doubt your sincerity, but surely you must see how saying. “loutish behavior [is not] a bias crime” plays into every “boys will be boys” whitewashing of homophobia that makes getting justice in these sorts of cases so difficult?Report

            • I’m sorry, but I genuinely disagree that the one follows from the other.

              Prosecute the actual crime committed. Penalize him to the fullest extent possible for the violation of whatever voyeurism statute New Jersey has. Prosecute him for obstruction of justice (which strikes me as the soundest case of all). Kick him out of school. I have no problem with that.

              But it seems, if not clear, then sufficiently plausible as to be problematic that Ravi was being punished for Clementi’s suicide, the cause of which nobody will ever know. A bias crime conviction required the jury to speculate as to what Clementi was thinking in reaction to Ravi’s actions, which gives me serious pause. That cannot be known, and I am very leery of a conviction that relies on guesswork. And it weakens the support for hate crime laws if there is a lack of clarity about what really comprises that category of infraction.

              Do I think Ravi is a horrible asshole? You bet. I shed not a single tear for the public shame he faces. I still do not think it justifies a ten-year prison sentence, and I know I’m hardly alone in that.Report

              • James Vonder Haar in reply to Russell Saunders says:

                It is worth noting that the actual sentence is far from “the fullest extent possible” of New Jersey’s voyeurism statute. Depending on how you parse the statute listed in the link downthread it’s either a third or fourth degree crime (basically it’ll come down to whether showing it to one other person the first time and having an audience of five the second time without recording it counts as some kind of publication; my gut is that it’s third degree but I’d need to take a look at the case history to be sure). According to this,, a third degree crime carries a sentence of 4 to 5 years while a fourth allows for one to 1.5 years in jail, subject to judicial clemency. It also contains a “presumption of non-incarceration,” meaning that jail time can be suspended and probation substituted at the judge’s discretion. In any case, even removing the bias intimidation and obstruction of justice concerns, the harshest sentence the judge could carry out is far, far in excess of the 30 days punishment Ravi eventually got. For my part, I’m also not sure if a decade is warranted, but I’m appalled at the month’s long slap on the wrist he eventually got.

                You’re not wrong to be leery of the media hooplah causing a significantly greater level of scrutiny than might be appropriate, and you are right to be concerned that Celementi’s eventual suicide, of which Ravi is innocent and of which he has justly not been charged, might lead to a harsher sentence than is just. But I can only term your support for this verdict- and the verdict itself, as I imagine the judge was animated by many of the same concerns- as a colossal overreaction to an admirable impulse to judicial restraint and self-reflection. Remove the controversy and Ravi still had plenty of rope to hang himself with.Report

            • Patrick Cahalan in reply to James Vonder Haar says:

              Zero tolerance policies are a poor alternative.Report

    • James Vonder Haar in reply to James Vonder Haar says:

      I should add thatI don’t think the outcome should have been appreciably different had Ravi spied on a heterosexual encounter or had the actions not led to a suicide. I’m also skeptical of the accusation of “bias intimidation” (though I am less sanguine about his motives- the “perverse, nigh unto comedic fascination” is surely a species of homophobia, less problematic than murderous rage but, in my experience significantly harder to navigate than ths scholarly homophobia motivated by reading a bit too much Aquinas), but anyone who film a sexual encounter without another’s knowledge or permission should face a multi-year prison sentence.Report

    • Also:

      Invasion of privacy is a felony in most states

      It is? I will leave it to the numerous attorneys hereabouts to weigh in with more authority than I have, but I don’t think that this is true.Report

      • I’m not an attorney, but felony has been my impression. Depends on the level of invasion, but when they use “wiretapping” laws on civilians, the penalties seem to tend towards the really harsh.Report

      • James Vonder Haar in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        This document is a little out of date, but has voyeurism laws for all 50 states.

        The general rule for something like what Ravi did is high misdemeanor or low felony. In Arizona, it’s either class 5 or class 4 felony depending on whether the person is recognizable. In Alaska, it’s a class C felony or a class A misdemeanor depending on whether the person taped is an adult or a minor. In Arkansas; a class D felony if done in certain places that seem to be chosen for the expectation of privacy they confer (residences are included, though I’m not sure if a dorm would count as one) and a class D misdemeanor otherwise. In any case, unless their sentencing guidelines differ appreciably from Texas, where my formal legal training lies, both the highest class of misdemeanor and the lowest class of felony provide for year-long sentences.Report

    • Loviatar in reply to James Vonder Haar says:

      Totally agree James, the sentencing shouldn’t be about who is gay, whether it was a bias crime or Tyler Clementi suicide, it should be about the very serious crimes (all felonies) for which Dharun Ravi was convicted.

      – Invasion of Privacy
      – Witness tampering
      – Evidence tampering

      Additionally, it was not a one time attempt to invade Tyler Clementi’s privacy, Dharun Ravi attempted multiple times to broadcast his roommates sexual liaisons without his knowledge or permission. I’m sorry I don’t see how this can be called a prank and the attempt to reclassify it as such plays along with the old boys will be boys mentality and minimizes the crimes.

      10 years would have been out of line, but I think anything from a 3 to 12 month sentence would have punished Ravi for the seriousness of the crimes committed while taking into consideration the mitigating factors of age, non-violence and first time offender status.Report

  7. Kazzy says:

    Ravi should have been treated like any other person accused of video taping the sexual escapades of another without their consent. No better, no worse. I go back and forth on hate crime legislation. Cases like this don’t engender my support. Ravi quickly became a pawn in a game, which is unfortunate. Rutgers and/or the court could have struck a much stronger blow for individual rights than they ultimately did for gay rights.Report

  8. Christopher Carr says:

    I was thinking about writing about this too, but you’ve said everything I wanted to and then some. Very well-written and thoughtful piece, Russell.Report

  9. BlaiseP says:

    Justice becomes an almost-meaningless concept in such circumstances. We don’t really know why Tyler Clementi decided to end his life. Though we cannot see into his heart at the time, I have a special and admittedly unreasonable hatred of suicide and those who contemplate it. I could tell you stories of suicide, of a father who beat a dent into his son’s coffin and had to be restrained by the mourners from striking his own son’s corpse, of a well-liked missionary’s son who painted the Chinese character for Death and laid across the train tracks, reducing the entire college to grief and horror. These were people I knew.

    Of old, suicides were not allowed to be buried in sacred ground. They were buried at the crossroads.

    Suicide makes a statement. Generally it’s read by those affected as a cosmically-large Fuck You. Sartre once said the only significant philosophical question is suicide, saying it was some final assertion of human will in the face of absurdity. Yet he condemned it, saying though the world might be screwed up, we do not have to be. We can cope.

    I could tell you of my own thoughts, but I won’t. I am bipolar. Thoughts of suicide come with the territory.

    Dharun Ravi did something stupid. As others have said, he’ll have to live with it for the rest of his life. Putting him in jail won’t solve anything. Several LGBT groups advocated clemency for Dharun Ravi. It seems the sensible thing to do.

    For all the very considerable harm Dharun Ravi has brought upon himself and those around him, I shall now make what may be a highly-unpopular observation about Tyler Clementi: that he harmed others, too. His devastated family and his many friends will never be the same.

    I am bipolar. I have looked into the void and it has looked back. I choose not to commit suicide because of the harm it would do to others. Not that I am an especially wonderful and unique person. The world would get along fine without me. But as the suicide bomber detonates himself in the midst of a crowd, so the suicide tears apart those around him, especially those who loved him.Report

    • Christopher Carr in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I generally agree with you that suicide is often a selfish and solipsistic act, although there are exceptions – the stoics, for instance.Report