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Tyler Clementi Case - What Punishment Is Justifiable?

Monday, Apr. 2, 2012


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You've probably heard about the case of Tyler Clementi - a freshman at Rutgers University who committed suicide after his roommate, 18-year-old Dharun Ravi, secretly filmed and broadcasted Tyler having a homosexual encounter with another man. Three days later, Tyler committed suicide. Now, convicted of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering, and hindering arrest, Dharun faces 10 years in jail or deportation (Dharun, although living his whole life in the US, is technically native of India).  He will be sentenced in May.

What punishment do you think fits the crime? How is it fair, and if so, why?  Does it bring justice to Tyler?  Does it serve some larger social purpose such as deterring further crimes?

Below are some further facts to help assist your decision.

Sept. 19th 2011: Tyler asked Dharun for the room to himself. Dharun then left the webcam of his computer on while he went over to a friend’s room to watch the live stream. He then posted on Twitter to his 150 followers, “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay”.

Sept. 21st 2011: Tyler read Dharun’s Twitter post and complained to his resident assistant and two other officials, requesting a room change.

Sept. 21st 2011: Another attempt was made by Dharun to film his roommate. And having contacted numerous people via text messages (one saying, “Yeah, keep the gays away”), an open iChat session was set up by Dharun accompanied with another Twitter post, this one saying, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it's happening again.” However, Tyler noticed the webcam and unplugged Dharun’s computer to prevent the filming.


Sept. 22nd 2011: Tyler posts his intention to commit suicide and then goes through with the intention.

Sept. 22nd 2011: Five minutes after Tyler’s post (although Dharun claims he didn’t see Tyler’s post until the next day), Dharun sends two apology emails within 15 minutes of one another. The first expressed his guilt and “good-natured” intentions in filming the first night; the second expressed his lack of bias against homosexuals.

March 16th 2012: Dharun was found guilty of invasion of privacy, hindering apprehension, witness tampering, and biased intimidation pertaining to the second viewing incident. The jury concluded that Dharun did not act with a purpose to intimidate either Tyler or his guest because of their sexual orientation, but that Tyler reasonably believed that this was the case.

The sentencing is set for May 21st.


Further Information

Framework for Ethical Decision Making 

CBS News Interview with Tyler Clementi's Parents 

ABC News Interview With Dharun Ravi

Comments Comments

Bryant J. said on Apr 3, 2012
It is sad to know that incidents like this aren't as infrequent or as rare as we may believe. In fact, bullying at large (whether hate-focused or not) has become an epidemic across the US and is something that needs to be addressed. Now as many have pointed out, this particular case has gained a lot of media attraction. And because of that, Dharun faces stricter penalties than other bullies in similar situations have faced. However, we must ask ourselves if the punishment fits the crime. There are 4 theories of punishment: RETRIBUTION (give back to the victim that which was taken--which is impossible in this case), DETERRENCE (stop others from this behavior by demonstrating the severity of punishment--which is the reasoning behind this harsh punishment), REHABILITATION (make the criminal good again--which seems to be ignored in this case), and RESTORATION (perpetrators and victims work together to forge forgiveness). In all of this, it seems that only the deterrence aspect is being addressed. And while this is crucial for curbing behavior, I think the justice system (and Dharun himself) should pursue other routes. For instance, having Dharun seek rehabilitation such that he attend support groups where bullying has hurt people. Or restoration where Dharun could do presentations on what his actions have done. In all of this, as grossly ignorant, wrong, and plain despicable as were Dharun's actions, we must remember that he was only 18-years-old. And while we just lost one 18-year-old to the actions of bullying, should we really strive to lose another through 10 years in prison? - Like - 1 person likes this.
Abbas R said on Apr 11, 2012
What punishment do you think fits the crime? Punishment is a confusing thing because the function we want it to serve is to 1. make the punishee recognize that their actions were wrong, 2. make society recognize that such behavior is wrong and inexcusable. Laws, in theory, are supposed to be reflections/derivatives of ethics. Sentencing and punishment, on the other hand, is designed to reinforce those ethical values, but the difference is, punishment and sentencing seem to be slightly arbitrary at times. How much punishment will accomplish the goal? What type of punishment is necessary? More data is needed on the justice and prison system to figure out what works and what doesn't work. How is it fair, and if so, why? Because of the need for more studies on punishment, it is hard to gauge "fairness" of a sentencing. Is a ten year sentence or possible deportation even shown to work in achieving the goals of the justice system? Do these punishments yield more social conscious and moral individuals? More empirical work is needed to make the punishment/sentencing process effective, efficient, and just. Does it bring justice to Tyler? The important take away is understanding why Dharun's actions are wrong/immoral/unethical, apart from them being illegal. What makes them wrong? I argue that the reason his actions are wrong, morally, is because his actions show a disregard for the value of Tyler's life. What I mean by that is, if all human beings are equal in worth then for one to invalidate another's value is wrong. We have moral emotions such as guilt to inform us, way before we can rationalize why, that we have done something wrong. (see TN Scanlon's What We Owe Each Other) In this case, a guilty Dharun, realized that his actions made Tyler feel like his worth was negligible, and hence why he tried to apologize. Furthermore, it may have taken Dharun a little to long to also realize that if the tables were turned, i.e., if his behavior was the norm, it would make him feel terrible and violated. The Categorical Imperative (Kant) is something that Dharun failed to recognize early on. Does it serve some larger social purpose such as deterring further crimes? As evidenced by the potential sentences Dharun could receive (i.e., 10 years or deportation), and the media attention this case received, the opportunity for this case to serve a "larger social purpose" is great, but does that mean, Dharun should be made the "poster boy" for such crimes? Is it fair to him? Or are the courts operating on a utilitarian motive, of the ends of setting an example justifying the means of arguably a harsh sentence? All in all, my opinion is that Dharun's sentence of 10 years is questionable. There is no evidence to support that he did what he did as a product of homophobia though Tyler believed it was motivated by hate. I don't think his punishment will serve a higher purpose because what contributes to suicide is not one or two isolated incidents of bullying. Suicide is far more complex psychologically and reducing it down to the action of one kid is a scapegoat for larger problems of systematic evils and institutionalized homophobia. Tyler had his own fears and reservations about his sexuality prior to entering college, and this might have been "the straw that broke the camel's back" so to speak. At the same time, he was found guilty for many counts and degrees of invasion of privacy and spoliation of evidence which is fair, but that should not be likened to serving a grander purpose nor serve as a lesson to homophobes, it is just a reflection of legal codes trying to reinforce ethical norms that posit an equal treatment of human beings by other human beings. - Like - 9 people like this.
Jon D said on Apr 15, 2012
Is it judicially expedient for the criminal justice system to punish the thoughts that are in our head? In criminal law, as in other areas, we consider this subjective standard in whether the person is culpable. My concern here is whether the 'hate crime' element can really be satisfied with respect to how the statute was written. As a first-time offender, I think Dharun is only empirically deserving of punishment for invasion of privacy, by video-recording Tyler without his permission. However, I think the chain of causation is too tenuous to cast blame for Tyler's death. It would be to ignore the notions of free will and thereby create a disservice to Tyler's conscious choice. No question Tyler's death is a tragedy, but it serves no societal goal to legislate and prosecute beyond the scope which is empirically blameworthy. - Like - 5 people like this.
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Tags: bullying, privacy, suicide