Ravi's High-Profile Media Campaign Both Savvy and Risky, Legal Experts Say

Friday, March 23, 2012

Dharun Ravi arrives in court with his lawyer Steven Altman. (Nancy Solomon/WNYC)

Former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi has launched a high profile media campaign this week following a conviction on 15 counts of privacy invasion, evidence tampering and bias intimidation. Ravi never testified at his own trial, and legal experts say making his case before the public now could be a savvy, but risky way to influence the sentencing judge.

“Judges are people too,” said Jenny Carroll, a professor criminal law at Seton Hall Law School.  “If the sense is that there is a surge in the public against giving Ravi a 10-year sentence, then a judge may feel hesitant before he imposes such a harsh sentence.

Showing Remorse or Fighting the Verdict?

Observers point out that if one of Ravi’s objectives during these select media appearances is to obtain a lighter sentence, he must convince the public during his interviews that he’s remorseful for what he was convicted of. 

Although Ravi says he is sorry about what happened to his roommate, Tyler Clementi, and for what his family has gone through, he insists that the jury got it wrong when it found Ravi intended to intimidate Clementi because he was gay. Ravi told Star-Ledger columnist Mark DiIonno, “I wasn’t biased …. I didn’t act out of hate and I wasn’t uncomfortable with Tyler being gay.”

In addition, Ravi told DiIonno that he pointed the camera away from Clementi’s bed after tweeting to his friends to tune into his webcam for a recording of a second intimate encounter between Clementi and his date.  At trial, prosecutors disputed that claim, offering evidence that the camera was still pointed at Clementi’s bed during the second visit by Clementi’s male friend.

Ian Weinstein, who teaches criminal law at Fordham Law School, said that although Ravi is expressing some regret, he also seems to be using his media appearances to argue against the verdict.

“So often judges most appreciate hearing a defendant express some insight,” Weinstein said, “that they understand now in a way that they didn’t understand before why their conduct is harmful. Judges are looking for an expression of remorse.”

Weinstein adds that Ravi should show remorse not only for what he did, but also for what he was thinking at the time, since his state of mind formed the basis for his bias intimidation conviction.

“What was in dispute here wasn’t what happened, but what was in Mr. Ravi’s mind,” he said.

A Precarious Balancing Act for Different Audiences

The high-stakes, high-risk campaign is playing out before three audiences watching Ravi now: his sentencing judge, the court that will hear his appeal and the general public.  Legal experts point out the tricky legal position facing Ravi; while he must curry favor with his sentencing judge, he has to protect his case before an appeals court. 

Judges at sentencing look for signs that a defendant owns up to what he’s been convicted of, while an appeals court will want arguments for why the verdict was improper. 

in his interviews, Ravi maintains he didn't act out of any bias against gay people.  Weinstein said it would have been wiser for Ravi to take a more conciliatory middle position. 

“It would have been possible to fashion a comment about how he really didn’t understand at that time, and really didn’t recognize and didn’t know at that time, that his conduct could have the impact that it had,” Weinstein said. 

The defense lawyers’ decision not to put Ravi on the stand, but to roll him out for media interviews struck many other lawyers as an aggressive, but sensible decision. They say the courtroom forum offers Ravi tremendously less control. In front of reporters, Ravi isn’t subject to cross-examination or penalties of perjury, as he would be in a courtroom.  He can practice his remarks, consult his lawyer midway through an interview, maybe even retake a statement in front of the camera if he requests, and he can refuse to answer a question without the risk that a judge would compel him to answer. 

Disclaiming Responsibility for Clementi’s Suicide

Ravi has also taken pains to make it clear during his interviews that he believes his actions had nothing to do with Clementi’s decision to kill himself.

“The more and more I found out, it would be kind of obnoxious of me to think that I could have this profound effect on him,” he told ABC’s “20/20.”  “I really don’t think he cared at all. I feel like I was an insignificant part to his life.  That’s giving me comfort now.”

There has been wide consensus in the legal community that Ravi would have never faced charges had Clementi not died. Ravi was not prosecuted for Clementi’s suicide.

Some observers believe it’s advantageous for Ravi to address Clementi’s suicide now, even if the trial never explicitly blamed him for it, because the public still connects his actions to Clementi's death.

“I think his defense lawyer has done a very good job of trying to channel his message towards very narrow points, that are points that are likely to appeal to the public — things like ‘I don’t believe I contributed to the suicide.’ The unspoken message in that ‘I therefore shouldn’t be punished for the suicide,” Carroll said.

Ravi is scheduled to be sentenced on May 21. 


Comments [16]

Joe from California

If an 18 year old man did this to someone's daughter or son they should expect to be jailed:
* attempt to live stream video of her 2nd and 3rd dates with a man
* encourage 150 people to see it
* destroy physical evidence, alter it, and lie to police.
* people she goes to school with and will see every day for 4 years will get a chance to see it.

No need for bias laws, just enforce the other laws. Treat this like any other harassment/sex crime case.

There won't be a 10 year sentence. The judge will take into account that only emotional scarring happened and no physical violence. He will also take into account that this is Mr. Ravi's first brush with the law.

Apr. 03 2012 09:33 PM
Eric from Bronx, NYC

The entire media and the jury at his trial are lynching Ravi en mas! They blasted and tainted and slashed his character the entire time, from the very beginning. But it gets more intense now, with the trial at its full gear and the verdict at its final stage. Poor Ravi. They framed him as a homophobe, a gay hater. They said: bias, bigot, everything. I feel bad for him. He didn't directly kill Tyler Clementi but indirectly caused to his death. If Tyler Clementi did not kill himself, that sentence of Guilty would not have been so harsh. He would get some community service, some probation, but nothing like what he's gonna get, and I hope it's not that much. We already lost a good guy, Tyler Clementi. Do we need to lose another good person? This Ravi guy he is not evil by any stretch of the imagination, I can tell you that! He is no devil or a hater. I can discern it on his face and motions. I think everybody does. Because Tyler clementi died because of Ravi's prank, does that give the world the license to cause to his imprisonment at a federal or state prison, with all these crazy perverts inside, all those inmates? That's gonna make him a delinquent not his condition right now. Ravi is going to be scarred for the rest of his life after he serves a (harsh) sentence. I Can assure you that! It's long I've said that no one should sit in jail, not even serial killers. I want education. Education and educating those felons of all kinds will change them and change the generations to come. Jail time does no good to anyone, especially to those inmates. Sure, put them in an enclosure, don't let them out, for months or years. But educate them there. Teach them how bad and evil and wrong was what they did. But jail time? That ain't gonna do nothing to no one. We see it all the time. The only thing it does, it scars them for years after their release from prison. And thats exactly what this jail-time will do to our poor Ravi, who by all accounts deserves punishment for what he did. And what he did was merely a prank. He is merely and simply a prankster, thats all. Him and his other fellows who partook in the artifice: videotaping Tyler making out with a dude. Tyler clementi took it way too serious, I gotta say. He took it to a level unimagined. He committed suicide after that video went public (only to his fellow students at his university). But Tyler clementi is gone. No sentence or jail time is going to bring him back to life! Now the only poor thing is Ravi, whose whole future is tarnished and damaged, for probably good. What a horrible situation. I hope he doesn't get that much or that long a jail time, I truly hope that. I'm no homophobe whatsoever, but I don't think jail time will accomplish anything here for Ravi or for humanity. We need to understand him and what happened how that happened, and we need to teach him what he did was definitely wrong. Read more at

Mar. 30 2012 06:18 PM
Brenda from New York City

Since the first words uttered on his media blitz, I have been consumed with thoughts of; "Stop Talking!" It is not in his best interest to let anyone hear him speak. Ten years is far too severe for an immature and mean-spirited series of acts. But he runs the risk of distracting from that fact if he keeps speaking.

Mar. 26 2012 07:29 AM

He did not take anybody's life. Tyler Clementi took his own life, and the more we learn about the circumstances, the more it looks like Dharun's role in Clementi's decision was extremely small, if any. Please learn the details of the case, before you accuse one person of taking another person's life.

Mar. 25 2012 05:09 AM
tanisha from india

He has taken a innocent's life away he should be punished. He is wrong.

Mar. 25 2012 04:13 AM

I am also gay, and I've been bullied a lot in the past. I see absolutely no reason for Ravi to pay for the sins of real bullies. I also have respect for him for being true to himself (even if that "self" is/was the self of an immature and arrogant teenager). The mob wants his blood, or at minimum - his repentance for all kinds of sins, both committed and not committed. It takes courage *not* to take the plea, even though you may end up much worse off. But the price is to admit being guilty of something you didn't do, and I respect that he chose not to do that.

Mar. 25 2012 04:00 AM
Sharad Krishnan from Paramus, NJ

As a gay Indian guy, I had some sympathy for Ravi based on his verdict which I felt was too harsh. That sympathy is fast vanishing now that we see how remorseless and arrogant he is.

Mar. 25 2012 01:49 AM
Ben from NJ

Has anyone else noticed that after the conviction a majority of those who felt Ravi was guilty went home and were replaced by folks in support of Ravi

Mar. 24 2012 09:42 PM
Big Bill from Rikers Island, Cell Block D

He had a chance to take the stand. It's sickening joke that he gets an interview on 20/20 and begins a media campaign. He should be ignored. No one cares what he has to say now. He's not under oath and it doesn't mean anything. When did Tyler get to be interviewed? When did we get to hear his story?

Ravi is probably not homophobic, but he is definitely an entitled creep. I hope he gets the max. We'll be waiting for you Ravi.

Mar. 24 2012 06:09 PM
epf from Denver, CO

Though I think Ravi's "crime" is virtually non-existent and should have merited no more than a heated dinner conversation at Rutgers, my opinion about media publicity and the APPEAL:

1) Though it probably would have no legal effect, I wish someone would offer Ravi a free lie detector test lasting half an hour with video of test published on web. I'm that confident Ravi is INNOCENT and this case is way out-of-line.
2) I think the files mentioned in New Yorker article "Story of a Suicide" should be opened and made public. There are only hints of Clementi’s mood in the previous weeks and months. There was his claim that he hated high school, and there were three files on his computer, written in July and early September, whose contents are unknown but whose file names are Gah.docx, sorry.docx, and Why is everything so painful.docx. It may be significant that, on his initiative, he and his mother had taken excursions to bridges around New York; he kept photographs he had taken of the George Washington Bridge on his phone. Paul Mainardi, the lawyer, wondered if Tyler was “in the thinking-about-suicide world” sometime before college.
3) This society should stop glorifying suicides by so called teenage "victims."
4) I wish Ravi had a lawyer who would go after Rutgers acting chicken like Pontius Pilate, and had time and inclination to sue celebrities for making defamatory statements before they even knew anything specifically about this case.

Mar. 24 2012 03:03 PM

I started to support Ravi when he stood up to the government and demand his right to a trial even when the prosecutor got scared and tried to offer him an easy deal. These plea deals that make our "justice" like a gameshow are a disgrace. It's bad enough our elections are like a bad reality tv show but the plea deals are worse. America is so overrated. Ravi should just agree to go back to Asia. The decaying American empire isn't going to be intact on the other side of the Iran war anyways.

Mar. 24 2012 01:34 PM
Ben Boer from NJ

Mark, it's massively reductive to compare two specific cases, not to mention the fact that you are comparing the actual sentence for the Seton Hall kids to the maximum possible sentence for Ravi... at least wait until he's been sentenced before you get your knickers in a bunch, because for all you know he'll get 2 years and parole after 1.

I don't see this media campaign helping Ravi. I do not see a kid expressing remorse and regret, I see a kid saying, "I did something bad, but it wasn't as bad as you think and it was only because I was being a dumb kid and now I'm the one being persecuted." It's that last part, subtly playing the victim, that's going to come back to bite him.

Mar. 24 2012 12:17 PM

Strange...didn't those kids who started a dorm fire at Seton Hall that burned several students alive get a four year sentence? And parole after two? So making insensitive comments on twitter is a worse crime than incinerating people?

Mar. 24 2012 11:52 AM
Wally Balloo from Mohegan Lake, NY

His over-inflated ego made him think he was better than someone else, to the point of publicly ridiculing them. This is just a continuation of this behavior.

Mar. 24 2012 11:36 AM

Ugly stuff. I don't believe he has had a single second of insight into the harm he caused or the bigotry that fueled his actions, nor a single second of remorse for anyone's misfortunes but his own. He probably thinks he's the victim of unfair bad luck that the kid he happened to pick to bully was unstable enough to jump off a bridge.

Sentence him to three years, let him out after 1-1/2, and deport him. The USA doesn't need or want him.

Mar. 23 2012 11:15 PM

As I understand your report, he's using a sophisticated media-manipulation campaign to assert that he was just a clueless kid when he did the crime. That's pretty cold-blooded, and probably counter-productive. It certainly eliminates any vestige of sympathy I might have had for him.

Mar. 23 2012 09:05 PM

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