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May 28, 2012

Dharun Ravi as example of (rare?) defendant aided at sentencing by letter campaign

At various times in various settings, many practitioners have on this blog shared their views concerning the potential virtues and vices, as well as the potential impact, of having crime victims or supporters of a defendant or others sending letters directly to a judge before sentencing (see recent posts here and here and here, for example).  This new AP article, which is headlined "Letters to judge in Rutgers gay roommate's suicide asked for leniency," reports on one high-profile case in which letters written to the judge may have had a significant sentencing impact:

The letters came from a man who was once beaten with a baseball bat in a racially motivated attack, the widow of a Minnesota judge, a group representing lesbian, gay and transgender people from South Asia, a gay member of the Navy, and the father of a woman who committed suicide, among others.

There were more than 100 in all, and nearly all had the same theme: telling the judge it would be unjust to put former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi in prison for using a webcam to see roommate Tyler Clementi kissing another man in 2010, just days before Clementi killed himself.

"I learned a lot about bias crimes and bullying through this case," said a writer named Louise. "The bullying and bias acts occurred when the legal system and media got involved.  Ravi is not to blame for the hardships endured by the gay community nor should he be tied to the whipping post because of it.  If Tyler was not gay, this would have been just a prank gone wrong and no one would have rushed to incarcerate."

Ravi, now 20, was convicted in March of 15 criminal counts. Soon after, the letters began pouring into Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman's chambers making requests for how to handle sentencing.  Last week, Berman said Ravi would have to serve 30 days in jail. Because the sentence is less than a year, it decreases the chances that immigration authorities will seek to have Ravi deported to India, where he was born and remains a citizen. Prosecutors said they would appeal the sentence as too light.

Before delivering the sentence, Berman held up a folder, inches thick, of the letters he had received.  Later, he quoted one of them, calling Clementi's suicide the "pink elephant" in the case.

Some of the letters came through an orchestrated effort. More than 30 of those in the file opened by the judge included a pre-printed plea with space for personal additions. Sandeep Sharma, a friend of Ravi's family and an organizer of the letters, said he thinks the letters were one factor in the relatively light sentence. "It had probably some influence," Sharma said. "I think the judge himself did not believe that this case belonged to the criminal court system to begin with."

The Ravi case is, of course, unique in many ways.  Nevertheless, I think there is an important lesson here for sentencing advocates, especially on the defense side: letter from crime victims urging leniency may be especially potent and influential on judges.

Recent related posts on Ravi case:

May 28, 2012 at 11:10 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Supposed Tyler Clementi quenced his murderous impulses by killing Dharun Ravi rather than himself? What would the letters be about then?

Posted by: Anon | May 29, 2012 1:07:33 AM

"I learned a lot about bias crimes and bullying through this case," said a writer named Louise. "The bullying and bias acts occurred when the legal system and media got involved. Ravi is not to blame for the hardships endured by the gay community nor should he be tied to the whipping post because of it. If Tyler was not gay, this would have been just a prank gone wrong and no one would have rushed to incarcerate."


Really, Louise? So if Ravi orchestrated a "viewing party" to watch you having sex with your boyfriend (attempt unsuccessful only because you figured out that the camera was on while rounding first), you would have laughed this off as a "prank gone wrong"? I find it more likely you would have been first in line to claim the necessity of a jail sentence for invasion of privacy. And that's before we get to the bias element.

The revisionist history when it comes to this case by Ravi apologists never ceases to amaze me. The crime was charged as a bias crime because of Ravi's own words and attempts to humiliate a student because he was gay. The jury found that beyond a reasonable doubt. Now, he's a "whipping boy" for his actions.

Right.

Posted by: Res ipsa | May 30, 2012 11:11:56 AM

Yeah Really Res ipsa.... If Tyler didnt kill himself, Rutgers would have handled the situation. Because Tyler, instead of switching dorm rooms, became a matyr, it became a media circus in which the state sought to be involved. Invasion of Privacy is a 4th degree offense and the 1st offense is no jail time. Dont write on here and try to all self righteous. Your a hardcore idiot that jumped on the "lets overkill Ravi" bandwagon. He was wrong..but not prison time wrong. Up your ass he got 30 days!!!

Posted by: louise pelosi | Jun 2, 2012 11:06:32 AM

If it wasnt an election year to get the gay vote..it wouldnt have been an issue. The govenment invades our privacy everyday. This was a childs prank and making Ravi the scapegoat to appease everyones guilt is disgusting.

Posted by: louise pelosi | Jun 2, 2012 11:10:28 AM

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