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Legal professionals see Ravi's apology, start of jail term as part of appeal strategy

Published: Thursday, May 31, 2012 10:22 a.m. CST

HACKENSACK, N.J. (MCT) — Dharun Ravi’s apology and decision to start serving a 30-day jail term Thursday for spying on his roommate’s gay liaison could be viewed as either a self-serving tactic or a genuine desire to move on with his life.

Legal scholars and professionals have a wide range of opinions regarding the motivation behind Ravi’s apology Tuesday to “everyone affected” by his choices and announcement that he wanted to go to jail despite appeals brought by prosecutors and defense lawyers.

“I think it’s a brilliant PR move,” said Jenny Carroll, a Seton Hall University law professor. “He offers an apology and then says ‘I don’t think the conviction was fair but I want to go ahead and serve this.’ It’s kind of like Martha Stewart all over again.”

Carroll was referring to the lifestyle expert’s decision to serve a five-month prison sentence in 2004 while her appeal was pending. Stewart was convicted of lying to investigators about a stock sale during an insider-trading probe.

Showing that he’s taking responsibility for his actions and willing to go to jail could hold sway with the appellate courts and even federal officials overseeing a possible deportation hearing, Carroll said. Ravi, who was born in India, could be deported because of his convictions on 15 charges, including bias intimidation, invasion of privacy, and witness and evidence tampering.

Ravi watched live-streamed images in September 2010 of his roommate, Tyler Clementi, kissing another man who has been identified in court only as M.B. He then tweeted about what he saw and encouraged followers to watch a second encounter. Days later, Clementi, of Ridgewood, N.J., ended his life when he leaped off the George Washington Bridge.

Superior Court Judge Glenn Berman sentenced the 20-year-old last week to a 30-day jail term and three years’ probation instead of prison time. He also must perform 300 community service hours, undergo counseling and pay a $10,000 fine.

Richard Pompelio, the attorney who represented M.B., said he didn’t believe Ravi was going to jail because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.

“I’m sure there was a tactical reason for it,” he said, characterizing Ravi’s words as less of an apology and more of a self-serving statement.

“I think we’re tired of Dharun Ravi,” he said. “Here is someone who started out this process with everybody saying we don’t want to see him go to jail. He managed through his conduct to cause everybody to feel differently about him.”

Ravi’s statement came after prosecutors filed a notice of appeal because they felt the 30-day sentence was too lenient. As a result, the sentence was automatically stayed and Ravi remained free before he decided to begin serving his time.

Some cautioned that Ravi’s statement and decision to head to jail — so he can move on with his life — should be taken at face value.

Louis Raveson, a professor at Rutgers School of Law in Newark, N.J., said it could be that simple.

“I understand him wanting to get this over with because anticipation is worse than serving the sentence,” Raveson said. “Once he gets it over with, it’s behind him.”

Ravi plans to surrender at 1 p.m. Thursday to the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office, where he will be photographed and fingerprinted, Sheriff Mildred S. Scott said.

He will then be transported to the Middlesex County Adult Correction Center, where he could be released on good behavior after serving just 20 days, according a Star-Ledger report last week.

As part of his decision to serve the time, Ravi briefly appeared in court Wednesday to waive his right not to be punished twice for the same conviction. Clementi’s family did not attend the hearing.

First Assistant Prosecutor Julia McClure told the judge during the hearing that she thought a five-year prison sentence would have been appropriate. She has said the judge wrongly swayed from a presumption of incarceration on the three second-degree convictions that carried terms of between five and 10 years in prison.

The hearing took an unexpected turn when Berman launched into a lengthy explanation of how he reached the sentence he imposed.

In deciding against a prison term, he said he was convinced that mitigating factors — such as the excessive hardship Ravi would face by being incarcerated in prison outweighed the aggravating factors such as the need to deter others from committing similar crimes.

“I can’t find it in me to remand him to state prison that houses people convicted of offenses such as murder, armed robbery and rape,” Berman said on Wednesday. “I don’t believe that fits this case. I believe he has to be punished and he will be.”

As for the two bias intimidation convictions, he reiterated that he believed the state’s bias law was intended to cover predicate crimes involving violence; not the invasion of privacy counts of which Ravi was found guilty.

“I stand on my belief that his conduct was wrong but I do not believe it was motivated by hatred,” the judge said. “He wasn’t convicted of a hate crime. He was convicted of a bias crime and there’s a difference.”

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