A life can spin out of control easily. The young man was in trouble. Never, arrested before in his life, suddenly he was facing serious felony charges. There was a potential to spend years in prison. On top of this, he was an immigrant who had come to the US as a child, a conviction would likely lead to deportation after prison.
The evidence against him was overwhelming. His actions, arguably, had indirectly contributed to the death of another. While even the prosecutor wasn’t going to charge him with manslaughter, public opinion was against him. If the case went to trial, the victim’s family would be sitting in the courtroom, a silent reminder to the jury that the young man’s carelessness had had serious consequences.
Yet, he was given a way out. A plea bargain was on the table. Admit his guilt on some counts. Spare the victim’s family a public trial. In return, no jail time and the state would recommend against deportation.
But he didn’t take the plea.
He would tell the press he couldn’t because it would have meant admitting guilt to a “hate crime” and there was no hate in his heart. Maybe he simply believed that the jury would see it his way. He had “committed” a prank, not a crime. You saw much worse on television shows like Punk’d. Nobody could “prove” a connection between what he’d done and what had happened later.
He went on trial charged with four counts of bias intimidation as a hate crime, two counts of invasion f privacy, two counts of attempted invasion of privacy, and seven counts of witness tampering and hindering apprehension based on his actions after the investigation began.
The jury convicted him on ten counts. They struggled only with “bias intimidation” but had no problem seeing his guilt on the other counts.
The young man neither apologized, nor took the witness stand. Many observers found his courtroom demeanor unemotional although when the verdict came in he appeared shocked.
The judge admonished the young man, telling him, “I heard this jury say ‘guilty’ 288 times — 12 jurors, 24 questions, but I haven’t heard you apologize once.”
He could have gone to prison for years.
The judge sentenced him to 30 days, plus court costs, community service and probation. The judge will recommend against deportation to the federal authorities. Except for he brief jail time, the young man got the same sentence as had he taken the plea, with one exception — he doesn’t have to acknowledge his responsibility or apologize for his actions.
Now, one can argue that the plethora of charges brought against him would never have occurred had the roommate not killed himself, had “bullying” particularly of the cyber variety not been so prominent in the news.
One can argue that despite the judge rightly trying to keep the suicide out of the trial, it was there hovering and influencing the jury.
One might say that no amount of jail time would help the young man to grow up, to lose any of the “colossal insensitivity” sited by the judge. Would a longer sentence have been justice?
The problem is that justice in this country is relative. There are people who like the young man chose a jury trial rather than a plea deal. Perhaps the deal they were offered wasn’t as good, and so they decided to roll the dice with a jury. Maybe the deal involved jail time. Maybe they believed they were not guilty in their hearts, as the young man did, that somehow their actions were justified, or just not as bad as the state thought, and they would be able to get a jury to see it that way. Maybe they were psychopaths who thought they could charm the jury. Maybe they were simply innocent.
Still they were convicted, and in most cases the judge didn’t subvert the jury’s intentions in quite the same way. They went to jail. They didn’t get the deal they didn’t take.
So what on earth made this case different?
Some might question the judge’s own bias. His statement in sentencing the young man to learn to respect “those with alternative lifestyles,” shows at least a tone-deafness, if not a prejudice of his own.
Some people wondered if the sentence might have been different if the victim hadn’t been his roommate, but perhaps a female friend — a young woman who had had an intimate moment caught and broadcast on Twitter.
But maybe the bias, was not so much against the victim as for the defendant. Maybe things would have been different if the young man had had a previous offense or two in his record, or this happened at a 7/11 and not at a respected state university. The young man came from a middle class home, from law-abiding people, hard working immigrants. While his dark skin might get him profiled at an airport, he probably wouldn’t be a victim of a stop and frisk unless the police mistook him for a Latino or a Moslem. His is a minority stereotyped as smart and ambitious, rarely subject to discrimination in housing or hiring.
So let’s replay the same crime. An eighteen-year old white girl is working at a 7/11 while working her way through community college. She takes a room in an apartment with a couple of coworkers, also part time students — another female and a young man. One day, the young woman, who is barely out of the closet, invites a date home. They kiss in her room, where the male roommate has a hidden camera. It’s broadcast on Twitter. The woman discovers tons of messages about the event and a possible encore performance. A day later she kills herself. Maybe there were other things happening in her life, and the connection between the two events is peripheral, but who knows? The timing seems to connect them.
Now, lets imagine the male roommate is black AND Hispanic, the son of immigrants, who has already had a little trouble with the law. Perhaps he was stopped once by the cops and found to have a small amount of marijuana. His mouthing off to the police about his “rights” led to a few more charges.
The young man is offered a deal. Does anyone think this deal would not have jail time and deportation? And if he chose to take his chances with a jury, does anyone think that after being convicted a judge would give him 30 days and 300 hours of service?
The problem is not so much that Dharun Ravi got off too easy. It’s that justice is a crap shoot, and the dice are loaded. In this case, Ravi chose to roll the dice. They came up snake eyes, but the judge called it a seven.