burden of proof

If Prosecutors Can’t Prove Dharun Ravi + Molly Wei Showed Tyler Clementi To Others, Are They Off The Hook?

With lawyers for Tyler Clementi‘s accused bullies Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei insisting their clients saw nothing more than Tyler kissing another man, and did not actually share that video with anyone else, could they actually manage to get off easy?

Prosecutors have only New Jersey’s 2003 state privacy law to rest their charges on. And because the burden of proof is on them, they’ll have to make clear beyond a reasonable doubt Ravi and Wei transmitted the live iChat video feed to others — something that might be impossible to do, notes the AP.

“To prove this case, you’d probably have to have the recording; you’d have to see what’s on it,” Justin Loughry, a Camden lawyer familiar with the privacy law and unconnected to the Rutgers case, said about the difficulty prosecutors could face in arguing for the harshest penalties. “Would it be enough to peek in on someone French kissing? Probably not.”

[…] “When the forensic evidence from all the seized computers is revealed, the truth will come out,” Steve Altman, Ravi’s attorney, told the Newark Star-Ledger for Sunday’s editions. “Nothing was transmitted beyond one computer, and what was seen was only viewed for a matter of seconds.”

Rubin Sinins, a lawyer for Wei, said he was “unaware of sexual contact” in the webcam video his client saw. “The statute defining sexual contact refers to nudity and private parts, and, to my knowledge, nothing like that was seen,” he said. “I’m also unaware of any evidence that any video was recorded, reproduced or disseminated in any way.”

Where prosecutors face the toughest challenge is elevating the alleged crime from the fourth- to third-degree.

The less serious fourth-degree crime could be committed if someone who is unauthorized to do so merely observes a sexual act – or in a situation where “reasonable person would know that another may expose intimate parts or may engage in sexual penetration or sexual contact,” Loughry said. To prove the third-degree crime, though, would be harder. To be convicted someone would have to see nudity or sexual contact – and would have to record it. If the defense lawyers are correct, Loughry said, that could be hard for prosecutors to prove.

And just because Ravi tweeted out to his followers an invitation to tune in — “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it’s happening again” — doesn’t equate a crime. (It does, however, show intent, though without previous rulings to establish precedent with the privacy law, it could very well be up to a judge to make the first interpretation.)

For now, we’ll have to wait and see what computer forensics turn up, and whether prosecutors have evidence Ravi’s webcam feed captured anything but kissing, and whether it reached anybody else.

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  • David Ehrenstein

    What their lawyers say and The Truth are two entirely different things.

  • Ted B. (Charging Rhino)

    “First let’s hang the lawyers…”

  • Soupy

    Don’t blame the lawyers. It’s a very important right to have the most rigourous defense possible when accused of a crime. That’s their job and if you are ever accused of something, rightly or wrongly, their responsibility is to mount the best defense possible.

  • greenmanTN

    Based on what Tyler Clementi posted as “cit2mo” on the justusboys website, what Ravi and Wei’s lawyers say is probably true. “cit2mo” posted that he checked his roommate’s Twitter the day after requesting privacy and discovered that his roommate, along with other people, had viewed him remotely via webcam. He states that based on the webcam’s position he’s “pretty sure” all they could have seen was him kissing another guy, but he was disgusted by the voyeurism and the fact that his roommate’s friends were asking the voyeur if HE was OK (after the apparently terrible discovery his roommate is gay) but said nothing about the spying and invasion of privacy. When Clementi asked for privacy again he saw Ravi’s posts inviting others to watch later when he was going to stream video and TURNED OFF the webcam. Based on what he posted he wasn’t sure what to because he was afraid his next roommate would be WORSE, though he did file a request with his RA for a new roommate. He killed himself not long after that.


    So, it is apparently NOT true that Ravi and Wei ever streamed video of Tyler Clementi having sex, but only because he disabled the camera. However, after spying on him once Ravi did plan, announce, and attempt to invade his privacy again AND stream video of Tyler Clementi having sex with another man.

    Now as far as I’m concerned the fact their plan to stream video didn’t work doesn’t let Ravi and Wei “off the hook” in any moral sense, though it may have a bearing on legal proceedings. Ravi, using Wei’s computer equipment, spied on his roommate and further invaded his privacy by “outing” him to a number of people via Twitter and Facebook. They planned, announced, and apparently attempted to invade his privacy a 2nd time AND to stream video of him having sex. That it didn’t work was only their “bad luck,” not due to any lack of effort on their part. Their invasion of Tyler Clementi’s privacy and public outing of him, even without the streamed video, was enough to distress him greatly and was certainly a major contributing factor in his suicide.

  • Revemupman

    The lawyers are doing their job I can’t hate them for that.

  • Benjamin

    Lawyers are paid liars. That’s the bottom line. Scum of the Earth (until you want to weasel out of trouble and hire one to be your own professional liar).

  • Duncan Osborne

    The statute says “An actor commits a crime of the fourth degree if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, and under circumstances in which a reasonable person would know that another may expose intimate parts or may engage in sexual penetration or sexual contact, he observes another person without that person’s consent and under circumstances in which a reasonable person would not expect to be observed.”

    Clearly, Ravi violated this law. You don’t have to catch the subject having sex or even in the nude to violate this provision nor does “an actor” have to show the images to someone else. All one need do is try to capture such images. I believe Ravi has admitted to trying to capture Clementi having sex with a guy twice. His attorney admits in this story that his client attempted to do that. It doesn’t matter if it was for a few seconds or an hour. You cannot be a peeping Tom at all.

  • Jeremy

    According to the prosecutors office it is a crime to use a camera to “view and transmit an image of someone without their knowledge or consent”.

    Couldn’t “transmitting” be defined as going from Ravi’s computer to Molly Wei’s computer?

    Also, Tyler said in his postings that he was “confident” Ravi saw him only kissing given the angle of the cam but did not say that was all that took place.

    I don’t believe a word from the lawyers, earlier this week they lawyer said Wei only viewed the encounter for a “few seconds” but one if Wei’s good friends already told the press she told him she watched for “two minutes” so which is it?

    This will be an interesting case to follow..as far as the nudity, or private parts, nobody knows what someone wears or does not wear when they make out. They could have been under the covers, or one could have had their shirt off so we may never know.

    One thing I do take issue with is them still saying this was not a bias crime. Tyler himself says in his postings that he thinks Ravi did it so he can show his friends “look at what a f*g my roommate is” and also says if he were vengeful enough he would like to get back at Ravi by pouring “pink paint” all over his stuff. “Pink paint” to me tells me Tyler knew he was the victim of a hate crime.

  • ewe

    Ravi shared it with Wei and transmitted it from his computer to hers right?

  • Unity

    @ Duncan Osborne


  • B

    No. 9 · ewe wrote, “Ravi shared it with Wei and transmitted it from his computer to hers right?”

    Not exactly right – nobody knows: the video was sent to Wei’s computer, but it isn’t clear if Wei was paying attention at the time. Wei can argue that she merely let Ravi use her computer. While she was in the room, that doesn’t mean a priori that she was paying attention. It would really be nice to have some additional witnesses, but apparently it was only the two of them in the room.

  • Andy

    No 11-

    Attorneys have confirmed the images were sent to Wei’s computer and also that she did view it

  • edgyguy1426

    no matter what happens these two names will forever be linked to Tyler Clementi and wherever they go this will follow/haunt them. And I hope it will.

  • B

    No. 12 · Andy wrote, “No 11-Attorneys have confirmed the images were sent to Wei’s computer and also that she did view it.”

    The DA might have been quoted as saying that (or misquoted as the case may be), but with almost complete certainty, Wei would have been told by her attorney to say nothing if it was true, and maybe told to say nothing if it was false.

    It also may depend on whether she merely looked up as Ravi started ranting about what he was looking at versus sitting there looking over Ravi’s shoulder.

    If it was the DA, it is possible that he (or someone in his office) jumped to conclusions and translated “viewable on her computer” to “she saw it.”

    Maybe she was looking over his shoulder, but I’ll wait for some testimony under oath before believing it.

  • Cam

    He invited others to a show on the web.

    If he breaks the lock on somebodys door, then puts it out on the web that there is no lock and the apt. is empty, is it his fault when the apt. gets robbed?…um….yeah.

  • greenmanTN

    It doesn’t excuse or mitigate Ravi and Wei’s actions, but I do think it’s interesting that in the weeks leading up to these events there was a heavily advertised movie (on Comedy Central at least) about someone videoing a friend’s 1st sexual encounter with his GF and posting it online. It has also been a comedic plot device in other movies.

    If Ravi and Wei hadn’t attempted to spy on Tyler Clementi a 2nd time, even going so far as to plan to “stream” him having sex and soliciting viewers for it, I’d be far more forgiving of their actions. It would still be awful but I could dismiss it as the actions of kids who just weren’t thinking, perhaps influenced by the media’s idea of a joke. We all do dumb things. But they didn’t stop there; they set out to expose, embarrass, and humiliate him in as public a way as possible. They had plenty of time to consider their actions between the first and second event but they kept going.

  • B

    No. 15 · Cam wrote, “He invited others to a show on the web.”

    The original report on QUEERTY claimed he “dared” people to ‘ichat’ with him during a particular time period. That may imply some sort of show, but it didn’t specify what the show as going to be.

    He can argue in court that he was merely going to give a narrative of what his roommate was doing, or what he imagined his roommate was doing, but had no intention of showing a video of his roommate to the whole world. He could try to claim that instead of showing his roommate having sex, he was going to show images of his own wild-eyed expressions as he imagined his roommate’s sexcapades.

    Whether he can get away with that claim or not depends on what they find on his computer. But even just going from “invasion of privacy” to “attempted invasion of privacy” can be a big deal in terms of the outcome (number of years in jail or size of a fine).

    Regardless, remember the criteria for a conviction – proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • Brian Miller

    I predicted a while back that they’d get off without significant penalties.

    The entire situation is so insane and revolting.

    First, you have the death itself.

    Then you have a bunch of homophobic politicians who just months earlier mocked gay families in a debate over marriage — with one asshole saying “I love gays, when they move into the neighborhood housing values go up, but its not marriage,” and a homophobic governor — wondering “where all this hostility and contempt and bullying is coming from!”

    Of course, it’s not them, so they pass some useless symbolic “anti-bullying legislation” and then their “consciences are clear.” Meanwhile, good luck getting equal treatment in New Jersey despite paying some of the nation’s highest taxes.

    And then these two “good kids” will get off with a slap on the wrist.

    Count on it.

    That’s “modern America.”

  • meego

    @edgyguy1426: Exactly!!!

  • Howard

    What’s revolting is the utter lack of remorse by these two. Privileged spoiled little brats, now counting on Daddy’s money to get them off of the hook.

  • Mack Robertson

    This is probably a mute question. Whether they are or are not guilty, in the eyes of the law, public opinion has made its’ mind up. As long as they live, they will have to live with the suspicion
    that they are guilty.

  • Joco Fobrisher

    Why has nothing become of this? When is there going to be a trial?

  • justiceontherocks

    @Joco Fobrisher: This happened three months ago. Many felony cases don’t come to trial for two years.

  • Shannon1981

    This will really suck if they get off. They essentially drove this kid to his death, no matter the particulars. But I understand they must go by the law. Spoiled little rich kids…

  • ewe

    @Shannon1981: spoiled yes but not necessarily rich.

  • justiceontherocks

    @ewe: True. If they are rich they probably aren’t at Rutgers.

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