Hate Crime Charge Pondered In New Jersey Student Suicide


The roommate of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi – who apparently killed himself after he found out the camera had caught him in a sexual encounter with another man – has been charged with invasion of privacy. A female student who allegedly participated in the video voyeurism was similarly charged. The Newark Star-Ledger said the Middlesex County prosecutor's office continues to investigate and the state's Attorney General is looking into the tragedy, as many call for harsher action. One charge being considered is bias intimidation, which is considered a hate crime, said Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for Attorney General Paul Dow.

Legal experts say the state may have limited recourse. Under New Jersey law, collecting or viewing sexual images without consent is a fourth-degree crime, and transmitting them is a third-degree crime with a maximum prison term of five years – which often results in probation for first-time offenders. “This is an area of law that has yet to catch up with changes in society with the dawn of the social-networking era,” said defense attorney Henry Klingeman, a former federal prosecutor. “Other than invasion of privacy, there is not a lot a prosecutor can do with that.” Klingeman noted that based on what has been released so far, it is unclear that any actual harassment was specifically directed at the victim. He said an aggressive prosecutor could also attempt to make use of the state's manslaughter statute, “but you would have to convince the jury that the suicide was a foreseeable consequence and that would be a tough sell to a judge and jury.” Steve Altman, an attorney representing Dharun Ravi, Clementi's roommate, said he does not see how, under New Jersey criminal law, either Ravi or Molly Wei, the other student who has been charged, can be held responsible for Clementi's committing suicide.

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