What Could Accused Face in Tyler Clementi Case?

Rutgers University held a series of events this weekend to honor Tyler Clementi, the freshman who killed himself last week after video of his sexual encounter with another man was put on the internet.

But while students remember their classmate, others are questioning what could happen to those accused -- Dharun Ravi, and Molly Wei -- who are charged with invasion of privacy for secretly using a web cam to broadcast live video of Clementi with another man.

On "The Early Show" Monday, CBS News Legal Analyst Jack Ford said five years in prison is the maximum Ravi and Wei could get for invasion of privacy under current laws.

Voice Your Opinion
Tyler Clementi Suicide Result of Hate Crime?
Tyler Clementi, Taped Having Sex, Kills Self

He explained, "It's a third-degree offense. New Jersey has five levels, so a third-degree offense carries a maximum penalty of five years, but interestingly if you are a first-time offender (like Ravi and Wei), there is a presumption in the law, you don't go to jail, you would get some sort of probationary scheme with community service involved. … Now, that presumption can be overcome by a lot of things, a sentencing judge, if they get to that point, might look at this and say, 'There was a death here and though you are not technically charged with that death, your conduct had a direct, at least an indirect result of a death, and a judge may sigh, you know what, I'm beyond the presumption of no jail time and you are going to go to jail."

If hate crime charges are added, Ford explained, a sentence can be enhanced.

He said, "New Jersey has a hate crime statute. People have to understand it's not a separate crime. What it does is, if you can prove this offense was because of somebody's -- here, the fact that they were gay, for instance -- what it does is enhances, gives the judge the ability to enhance a sentence and here could double, kick it up from five years to 10 years. The prosecution hasn't made that decision yet, but they have to be in a position to prove there was a direct link between the fact he was gay and the conduct involved."

"Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez asked Ford on the broadcast, "If these two students caused this other student's death indirectly, why wouldn't there be manslaughter charges?"

Ford replied, "A lot of people asking that, making the analogy to drunk driving deaths, which years and years ago were not terribly serious. Now most legislators are saying we are making this manslaughter type category. Right now the law in New Jersey doesn't do this and other states, two reasons: their's is not a direct link. I'm drunk, get into a car and crash into you and cause your death, there is a direct link between what I did and the death. Here, you would probably argue, well, how would they have known that this, as bad as it was, was going to result in his death?"

Rodriguez added, "He killed himself, they didn't kill him."

Ford replied, "Exactly. He took his own life, as tragic as it is, they didn't do something like a drunk driver to cause somebody else to die."

Ford added that Clementi's family does have options in civil court.

He said, "You might see a civil suit afterwards, people might remember the O.J. Simpson trial, he's prosecuted criminally, the families then sued him civilly. You might see a civil lawsuit here intentional infliction of emotional distress they talk about, and in the civil lawsuit, they could make an argument that the death was directly linked. So, the arguments would be a little bit different in the civil. But, no jail time, monetary damages."

On "The Early Show," CBS News National Correspondent Jeff Glor reported Clementi's death is one of several recent suicides that are being blamed on anti-gay bullying.

Glor reported from New Brunswick, N.J., that some are questioning whether Clementi's suicide death is an isolated incident, or part of a disturbing trend among gay teenagers.

Glor said leaders in the gay and lesbian community say that harassment and discrimination are nothing new in their community and are calling for increased awareness and protection is schools and colleges.

More than a thousand people stood united at a candlelight vigil this weekend to plead for tolerance and to remember Clementi.

At the vigil, a man said of the Ravi and Wei, "I'm angry. I'm very very angry at what they did."

But the problem is not limited to Clementi. He is one of five gay teens believed to have committed suicide in the last four weeks, Glor said. Many were victims of anti-gay bullying -- like 13-year-old Seth Walsh, who hanged himself last month.

Glor remarked those deaths are receiving new attention, as the passing of Clementi puts new focus on the on the alienation gay teens say they often feel.

Glor reported one recent survey by CampusPride.org, a non-profit organization for LGBT student welfare, found that nearly 25 percent of gay college students report being the target of harassment and discrimination, while only seven percent of U.S. schools offer support programs.

This weekend MTV recorded messages of support from gay celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris and singer Lance Bass.

Harris said, "If you're getting bullied and you feel like you are on the outskirts, it gets better."

Bass said, "I can tell you right now, when I was in high school in Mississippi, I was one of the first ones to jump on the bandwagon and make fun of a gay person. And look how I turned out. You know, I had a secret the whole time."

As for Ravi and Wei, some say the punishment they could face is just not enough.

A student said at the vigil, "I don't know if anything is enough to make up for what they did."
  • CBSNews

Comments