Each Tuesday night, I contribute to WWRL 1600 AM radio in New York as a legal news correspondent, giving my take on the latest legal headlines during the Your Legal Rights radio show from 10 pm-12 am. Below is my legal news update for Tuesday, May 22nd.
Dharun Ravi was sentenced Monday to 30 days in prison after a March conviction of bias-intimidation, invasion of privacy and witness & evidence tampering. Ravi faced up to 10 years, but Judge Glenn Berman said a harsher sentence simply did not fit the crime. While the impact statements given by Tyler Clementi’s family, as well as M.B., his visitor also recorded on Ravi’s webcam, were heart-wrenching, I still believe Berman’s sentence was fair. Like Ravi’s defense said before sentencing, this was NOT a murder case, though jurors may have treated it that way.
What Ravi did was terrible. Still, I believe jurors went beyond the evidence presented in court when they convicted him of bias intimidation. Jurors were not supposed to consider Clementi’s death, though that is the best evidence proving Clementi felt intimidated, a key in finding Ravi guilty of bias intimidation. Also, much of what Clementi said about how he felt at the time of the webcam spying incidents was barred by the judge as hearsay as Clementi could not be cross-examined on it. When the law was written, it was before webcams and Twitter and it was not meant to be interpreted so broadly, which is why I think the defense has a good shot at getting the verdict overturned on appeal.
What’s more important than the 30-day sentence (which the New Jersey Star Ledger says could be as little as 20 days due to an automatic 10-day credit for good behavior) is the fact that Ravi will have to take counseling on cyber-bullying and alternative lifestyles and do 300 hours of community service. This, to me, is more effective in teaching him a lesson and sending a message that cyber-bullying is not tolerated.
The judge also admonished Ravi for not apologizing and called his pre-sentence letter “unimpressive.” Clementi’s brother also mentioned that an apology, at one time, would have meant something, but not any longer. The thing is Ravi has likely been told by his defense not to apologize as he is fighting to appeal the conviction and has remained adamant that he never intended to intimidate Clementi because he was gay.
The case was a tragic one, but what’s more important than focusing on whether Ravi’s sentence was fair or not is the awareness that was spread about the issue of cyber-bullying and gay bullying because of the national outcry over this case. Since the webcam incident 20 months ago, the “It Gets Better” campaign has shone a spotlight on the problem of suicide among young gay men and women and anti-cyberbullying laws have now been passed in New Jersey and other states.
A judge has cleared the way for thousands of New Yorkers who feel they’ve been victimized by the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy to join a class action lawsuit. The suit claims the policy allows the NYPD to subject millions of New Yorkers to racially biased illegal searches, and it seeks an injunction forcing the department to change the controversial policy. The New York Civil Liberties Union argues the policy leads to racial proving and says young African-American and Latino men are unfairly targeted. They say that although African-American and Latino young men aged 14-24 make up only 4.7% of the city’s population, they account for 41.6% of all stops in 2011, with similar numbers in the first three months of this year.
However, the NYPD argues this policy ends up disproportionately protecting minority communities. They released statistics saying African Americans and Hispanics make up 96% of all New York City shooting victims and 90% of all murders victims in 2011 and they say, therefore, such a drop in shootings citywide will logically equate to fewer minorities being killed.
I can see how the policy has contributed to a drop in the murder rate and an increase in the seizure of illegal guns. However, I think the policy can create a deep and abiding distrust among minority communities of the police, which is a huge issue. The city has until next month to appeal the judge’s decision, but I think it’s important the suit has sparked a debate over the controversial policy, and hopefully leads to an independent investigation into stop and frisk.
Finally, the John Travolta sex assault lawsuit just keeps getting weirder and weirder. Now, Okorie Okorocha, the attorney behind the original suit, is suing Gloria Allred for allegedly stealing his clients. Okorocha claims Allred solicited John Doe No. 2, even though he was not looking to change lawyers. Allred denies the accusation. Okorocha says Allred improperly induced the masseurs to breach their contract for legal representation and that she improperly acted to disrupt their economic relationship, keeping him from collecting fees.
Be sure to tune into my legal news updates every Tuesday night on WWRL 1600 AM radio at 11 pm.