Dharun Ravi Receives 30 Days In Jail to the Dismay of Many

The words of the judge today at Dharun Ravi’s sentencing were “Our society has every right to expect zero tolerance for intolerance.” Which is a sentiment that is, at least for some, easy to agree with. But what “zero tolerance” means in a legal sense is open to discussion. In Ravi’s case, in terms of the decision handed down today, “zero tolerance” means 30 days in prison, 300 hours of community service, three years’ probation, court-ordered counseling, and $10,000 to be paid to an organization that helps victims of hate crimes.

Ravi has already spent 20 months in what the judge called “exile” since Clementi’s death. Possible consequences for Ravi included 10 years in prison or being deported to India, where he has citizenship. The judge refused both possibilities, and also questioned the classification of Ravi’s actions as a “hate crime,” stating that “I do not believe he hated Tyler Clementi.” Before the trial, prosecutors allegedly offered Ravi a plea bargain which, if he had agreed, would have meant no jail time at all. He refused it. Ravi’s mother claims that he’s lost over 20 pounds since the legal ordeal began.

Many gay activists and many of Clementi’s supporters are outraged by how light Ravi’s sentence has turned out to be compared to what he could potentially have received. The question of how much legal punishment Ravi received may be more of a question of the workings of the US legal system than a statement about how our culture perceives anti-gay bias, bullying, or hate crimes. Legally, Ravi isn’t on trial for Clementi’s suicide; he can’t be held responsible for his death. Although Ravi was found guilty of 15 different counts, many of them have to do with invasion of privacy and the idea of “intimidation.” Some of the charges against him are only even punishable by probation. Our experience of the US justice system sometimes feels like the punishment visited upon the perpetrator of a crime should be relative to the pain or injury inflicted upon their victim. But in real terms, it breaks down to what can be proven, what may or may not be intended, and whether we can apply concepts of reasonable doubt to our worst-case conception of a defendant.

The function of the American justice system, on some level, is not only to punish past crime but to discourage future crime. For many (or even most) people, judicial sentences are meant to prevent that person from committing crime again, either through harsh punishment or rehabilitation or some combination of the two. Ravi’s crime was cruelly and inhumanely exposing the personal life of another human being to ridicule. It seems objectively fair to call it “bullying.” But what’s the best way to handle Ravi’s specific case that will discourage the things that he did? Unlike drug dealers or serial rapists, it’s maybe inaccurate to argue that Ravi needs to be kept behind bars for years or he’ll otherwise repeat his crime over and over again. It seems unlikely that Ravi will ever broadcast a video of an acquaintance in a sexual situation again, after the past 20 months. Will a harsher sentencing of Ravi change the behavior of someone like Brandon McInerney, who shot and killed classmate Lawrence King in their classroom? Will Ravi’s punishment change the gay bullying epidemic in America, or just how we feel about it?

There are at least some who feel that asking Ravi and his sentence carry the weight of the pervasive cultural problem that is the intersection of homophobia and violence oversimplifies the issue, and that it’s therefore a fair sentence. Will sending Ravi to jail for longer than 30 days erase the cultural context which made what he did possible?

Law is not going to solve social problems of bigotry and homophobia by singling out scapegoats and punishing them for all of our sins. If you are angry that no one is being held responsible for a young man’s suicide, don’t look to the court system—look around, and look in the mirror. Mitt Romney is responsible for it, anti-gay preachers are responsible for it, North Carolina voters are responsible for it and so is Dharun Ravi. So are all of us.

Nonetheless, the outcome of this case is important; largely because a young man died young and senselessly. And because the idea of “sending a message” isn’t just something we’d like to assuage our fear and grief; some kind of message, somehow, does need to be sent, because it’s maybe never been more evident that thousands of kids across the country, gay or bully or somewhere in between, need to hear that their lives are worthwhile and the loss of them is unspeakably awful. How does one do that with a trial? How does one do that at all?

The legal narrative of Dharun Ravi probably isn’t over; there will likely be an appeals process. The narrative of Tyler Clementi is over forever, because he’s dead. Whether the former can ever be made to properly respond to the latter fact is still unclear.

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1127 articles for us.

36 Comments

  1. “Although Clementi was found guilty of 15 different counts, many of them have to do with invasion of privacy and the idea of “intimidation.” ”

    I’m assuming you mean “Ravi was found guilty of….”

    • Agreed. There is no reason to destroy Ravi’s life over this. And it’s not just 30 days. It’s a shit load of community service, hefty layers bills and a reputation ruined for life.

  2. Agreed, 30 days is a pathetic, but lets also remember, this guy’s life is ruined forever anyway. He’s most likely never going to be hireable, and will live with this stigma forever. Many lives were shattered the night Tyler threw himself off that bridge.

  3. I think this was a good sentence.
    I mean, if Clementi hadn’t killed himself, the worst Ravi would’ve gotten would’ve been maybe expulsion from Rutgers–and that would seem totally appropriate to everyone, I think. And Ravi wasn’t charged in connection with Clementi’s suicide, which I think is the right choice, given that it’s pretty much impossible to say WHY someone commits suicide.
    I think that what Ravi did was wrong, and was clearly a product of the homophobic society that we live in; and for that reason I’m glad the the court system and the media took it seriously. But Ravi doesn’t need to spend 10 years in prison for what he did–that would be way out of proportion with his crime. And I think that the community service and the counseling and the $10,000 dollars do far more good to Ravi, and to the fight against homophobia, than any jail sentence could do.

    • I think this is on point. What Ravi did was wrong, but I don’t think it warrants some harsh jail sentence. Holding him solely and directly responsible for someone else’s suicide seems a little unfair, but would also send a message that the bad seed had been dealt with, when the problem lies more so in schools not doing enough to protect people like Tyler and society not doing enough to stamp out homophobia in all its forms. I think too strong a sentence would’ve perhaps also legitimized the notion that people were “overreacting” to what Ravi did and encourage sympathy. Like others have said, Ravi’s life is rather fucked up for the foreseeable future.

  4. I think 10 years would have be been too much but 30 days is certainly far too lenient.
    After 7 counts of evidence tampering (i.e. deleting txts, emails, and tweets), obstructed justice, tampered with a witness…. that’s a slap on the wrist. The sentence that he received was lower than the mandatory minimum in New Jersey for shoplifting, which is 90 days.
    That’s not justice, that’s a waste of taxpayer’s dollars.
    Rest in peace,Tyler

    • Or is it perhaps that the mandatory minimum sentence in NJ for shoplifting is way too high?

      I’m not trying to be a devil’s advocate here. I get why a lot of people feel that 30 days is too low, and a part of me feels that way too. But then I think about how there’s generally four principles that justify criminal punishment. Two have already been talked about in the post above (rehabilitation and deterrence), and the other two (incapacitation and retribution) were implicitly mentioned. Taking it point by point, it would seem that the two most salient justifications for a longer sentence fall into the retribution camp and the rehabilitation camp. It’s unlikely that Ravi will repeat his crime, so incapacitation is not needed. Deterrence… perhaps. But then we’re talking about deterring other people, and I think there’s a very small group of people out there who could be affected by it. People who aren’t so homophobic as to act without regard to consequences, and people who even pay attention to what happened here. That would unfortunately rule out most teenagers, I’d think.

      So then we’re left with retribution and rehabilitation. The interest of retribution is certainly served more by a longer jail sentence, but no matter how much time Ravi serves, Clementi isn’t coming back. As far as rehabilitation goes, I’d like to think he will reform more through community service (I wish a condition had been placed on the service that required it be performed at LGBT assistance organizations) than sitting in a prison cell. So the question becomes, do we want to reform Ravi, or just punish him?

      • I think most of us would have been charged with evidence tampering, if that includes deleting texts and tweets… Even if I did something wrong and turned myself in, I imagine I would delete some electronic thoughts that make me look crazy. But maybe I’m evil and most people wouldn’t do that. Oh well. I don’t plan on committing crimes.

        • It’s one of those things that I think would tend to hit non-lawyers more than lawyers. That is to say, most ordinary people, in the midst of attempting to deal with the immediate aftermath of a crime or holy-shit moment probably would delete e-mails or evidence to try to avoid getting caught. This might also occur without any (or without a complete) understanding of the illegality and consequences of doing so. Most attorneys on the other hand would know exactly how bad it is to do such a thing. Depending on the circumstances, I have sympathy for ordinary people charged with obstruction of justice. By contrast I’d totally have way less sympathy for an attorney.

    • Seriously, jail is costing us money to keep him away from society. He’s really not so much worse than a great deal of homophobes, I’d rather him have to work at being not such an asshole.

  5. Having just served on a jury, I’m having all kinds of weird feelings about the justice system. Even when all 12 of us were on the same page about what we thought happened, applying the law to the situation can be really difficult. Y’all would not believe how long we spent arguing about the way the charge for assault is written in the law. (3 days before we decided we were deadlocked.)

  6. I’m kind of on the line with this one. I agree that ten years is too much. But then two months in jail seems like far too little. The problem I have with it is how lightly they seem to think intimidation is no big deal. People’s lives can be ruined over someone intimidating them. Case in point Tyler’s decision of suicide.

    I think this one just hit really close to home because TN is so fucked up when it come to LGBT people being intimidated by others. This past year this lesbian couple in TN has been in the news because their house was defaced and set on fire. The women said that they had been harassed and intimidated numerous times by a woman in the neighborhood. Yet when their house was nearly burned to the ground and what not it wasn’t even seen as a hate crime because of “lack of evidence”.

    So yeah. I am okay with him not getting 10 years. But I am not okay with him basically getting a slap on the wrist because intimidation isn’t a big deal.

  7. I’ve been thinking a bit about this today and six months sounded like the best way they could have gone to me. Keep his ass out of state prison, but keep him in county jail long enough to let the fact sink in that his awfulness as a person helped drive another human being to suicide. As individual as we think we are, we’re very social animals. Suicide is not an unforeseeable result of drastically messing with someone’s social image, especially when it involves a characteristic that is still so vehemently hated by some social elements.

    It still can’t ever be clear how much a role Ravi played in Clementi’s suicide, so to hold him to 10 years would be way more absurd than 30 days. 30 days is still a mite absurd, though.

  8. Huh, I don’t know how to feel about this. While I understand the need for some sort of retribution – making perpetrators suffer as their victims did – there’s also the whole re-offending element of it. Norway has probably the most “lenient” prison system in the world, but also one of the lowest rates of re-offending. I think 30 days in prison is probably fair, but he should be doing more community service to pay for what he did.

  9. I don’t get the judge saying Ravi didn’t hate Clementi so it wasn’t a hate crime? I didn’t realize you had to personally dislike someone as a prerequisite of a hate crime.

    • I feel the judge did take “hate crime” a little too literally but from what I’ve read/heard about Ravi he just seems like a douchebag, not particularly homophobic. Slapping him with a hate crime would have been wrong.

    • Technically the relevant law makes it a bias crime, not a hate crime. The judge’s comments aren’t relevant to the evidence supporting Ravi’s conviction — he was already found guilty by a jury on several of the charges. The comments by the judge were merely an explanation for the sentence. The judge wasn’t saying that he thought Ravi was innocent, rather that he thought that Ravi did not actually hate Clementi. What he did was wrong, illegal, and biased, but not motivated by pure hate.

      Perhaps a better way of thinking about it is that it makes the lesser sentence make a bit more sense. If the judge had thought that Ravi actively hated Clementi, or that he actively hated all gay people, he likely would have sentenced him more harshly. There is perhaps more danger in reoffending for someone who holds a complete hatred against a target group than someone who, while perhaps a homophobe at the time of the crime, does not.

  10. Prison is rarely a good tool to use to reform someone. Just look at the rates of recidivism. What we want in this case is for Clementi not to have died, but we can’t have that. So the next best thing is for Ravi to feel the weight of his actions and serve as an example of the ramifications for bullying. This case will and has set a precedent. Community service and forced donation may go a long way in reforming Ravi and give him the opportunities to make a productive impact to the larger community while showing that bullying has extreme consequences. Are they extreme enough? That is clearly up for debate. Although I’m still angry about what happened, I really do thing justice and mercy occurred with this ruling. Both justice and mercy are important in the move toward healing because as Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.

  11. One thing about the justice system is that it doesn’t take into account different personalities. If it did, the sentence would be harsher. Tyler Clementi from all accounts was a shy and reserved person. Clementi therefore, probably would’ve seen the invasion of his privacy as not only somebody disrespecting his space and privacy in general, but someone completely imposing on him and thrusting him into the spotlight, so to speak, against his will (by recording that encounter and broadcasting it on Skype). But the justice system doesn’t work like that. It can’t take into account that he was a shy and reserved person. It can only punish people for crimes committed.

    I think the judgement is fair. As that Daily Beast article pointed out, throwing him into jail for 10 years won’t change the minds and actions of anti-gay bigots.

  12. I think I might feel better about the sentence if he had actively shown that he felt regret for his actions and resolved to change. I might not be up to date with the case, but I just remember him saying things like, “I’m sorry people feel that way” and other such statements, rather than statements with actual substance. I don’t know, maybe someone can correct me on this?

  13. I did 300 hours of community service for taking a single shot of alcohol at a party underage.

    They then screwed up expunging my record, which was part of the deal. Turns out the only thing they “expunged” was my record of community service, so now I have charges on my record and no way to prove they shouldn’t be there! Lol.

    The justice system is really f’ed up. 300 hours is trifling. That $10,000 is probably coming out of Ravi’s parents’ pockets anyway. The jail sentence isn’t going to rehabilitate him any way. /oh well

  14. I don’t know where I stand.

    What Ravi did was cruel. I have mostly female friends and female haters, but I don’t think anyone of us would ever think to stream any one of us an intimate and exposed sexual act.

    On the other hand I have a handful of stereotypical “straight” guy friends. And the things they’ve done to their friends and practical jokes they’v done against people in general rival what Ravi did. Fact. I’m pretty sure what Ravi did to his roommate was done to an unaware heterosexual couple I know by a . It’s still wrong and I’m pretty sure the girl filed a or threatened to file a civil suit for violation of privacy, but it wasn’t a hate crime.

    Clementi had a borderline personality due to his struggle with accepting his sexuality for what it was. The nature of this situation didn’t read hate crime in clearly defined terms for me. It read as disrespectful and a broach of privacy and stupid dudeish antics. I don’t think Ravi has a hatred for gays, I think he thought what he did was amusing at the time and well, now his parents are crying because he’ll probably never be able to be a Board Certified Surgeon. Or whatever professional degree he was going for. He looks smart.

    I think the sentence was fair. An irresponsible and despicable act of privacy violation led to someone taking their life.

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