Today New Jersey judge Glen Berman sentenced Dharun Ravi in what is now known as the “webcam” case. This case raises so many issues about our criminal justice system and allows us to peak inside what’s really going on here. The sentence surprised many and was a true alternative sentence with 30 days in jail, 300 hours of community service, a fine and formal probation.
Dharun Ravi was convicted March 16 of Second-degree bias and invading the privacy of his former roommate Tyler Clementi. Ravi was not charged with the death of his former roommate. But this is considered a hate crime in New Jersey and carried a possible prison term of 10 years. Ravi may also face deportation to his native India. Tyler Clementi committed suicide after Ravi used a webcam to show him kissing another man. The case has been used as a platform by the LGBT community as a message of the consequences that discrimination and bullying can cause.
But, many in criminal justice circles did not think that 10 years in prison was a fair term and that this is a case of UNEQUAL JUSTICE. The truth is that if looked at correctly this case can teach us many things about how our justice system works. What many don’t understand is that Judge Berman had a lot of discretion, as do judges in all cases that don’t have mandatory minimum sentences. In this case the range is probation to 10 years!
So, how did judge Berman decide and what factors do judges consider when they sentence those before them? To answer this we must understand part of what actually goes on before a person is sentenced. The government will always file a sentencing memo based on facts and guidelines. It is also based on a probation department report. Here is one place most lawyers and defendants miss their opportunity. A defendant has the right to file their own sentencing memo that not only includes a legal argument but also any mitigation and alternative sentencing proposals. YES- an alternative sentencing proposal. I call this a ROAD MAP for the judge and many times a judge will use this as part of their decision making process. We must remember that judges are busy and if a plan is spelled out it will have more impact. That said, the plan must be reasonable and viable. Why do many attorneys give this such little weight or write memos that are actually harmful?- A true lack of understanding why and how post conviction works.
This in a case where Ravi and his team rejected two plea deals that would have allowed him to serve no jail time!
Here’s where this case has gone wrong and where we can all learn something. While Ravi has spent much time in the media, he failed to score with what is essential for every client I work with- HE DID NOT EFFECTIVELY ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY and therefore doesn’t show remorse. Rather his lawyer argued, “He’s going to be punished for the rest of his life,“It’s already beginning.” POOR RAVI! This is the wrong message, especially when somebody has died.
I try to get all of my clients to accept responsibility. That does not mean they actually did what they are convicted of, or as in this case, mean that they think jail is the option. Accepting responsibility means owning that one’s own actions and choices have landed them in this spot. In this case Ravi has apologized and may actually feel remorse but the aggressive and tactless approach of his legal team left him vulnerable to 10 years in State Prison.
Was prison the right option here? No and the court and judge came up with a viable alternative sentence rather than the easy way out of straight prison time. If Ravi were my client I would have asked him to begin meaningful community service and encouraged therapy for him and his family. After all, family is the forgotten consequence of crime.
Wendy Feldman is a criminal justice expert, insider and family legal coach. She is available for private consultation on how to prepare for a successful incarceration, probation and re-entry. She is also available for media commentary and has appeared on shows from Today, CBS Early Show, Fox News and Nancy Grace. She is a weekly featured guest in the syndicated America Now radio program. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.