Originally published on MSNBC.COM at : http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/39445225/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/?GT1=43001
NBC News and news services
updated 10/1/2010 8:09:30 AM ET
Some gay rights groups are urging that New
Jersey’s hate crime law be used in the case of
the Rutgers student who committed suicide
after an intimate encounter with another
student was shown on the Internet.
The state’s hate crime law is among the
strictest in the nation, and it works as most of
them do. It’s not an offense charged on its
own. Instead, it’s invoked at sentencing to
seek a harsher penalty. The criminal charges
filed so far in the case — invasion of privacy —
would qualify for a hate crime enhancement,
say legal experts in the state.
According to the Middlesex County
prosecutor, New Jersey’s invasion of privacy
statutes make it a crime “to collect or view
images depicting nudity or sexual contact
involving another individual without that
person’s consent.” It’s a separate crime to
transmit or distribute those images. The
penalty can include a prison term of up to five
If the hate crime enhancement were applied, it
would raise the maximum penalty to 10 years.
Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped off New York City’s
George Washington Bridge into the Hudson
River last week. His body was identified on
Thursday after being found in the river a day
Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, and fellow
Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, both 18, have b
een charged with invading Clementi’s privacy.
Prosecutors say that they used a webcam to
surreptitiously transmit a live image of
Clementi having sex Sept. 19 and that Ravi
tried to webcast a second encounter on Sept.
21, the day before Clementi’s suicide.
As for possible federal charges, a Justice
Department official says that’s not likely at this
point. The federal hate crime law would not
apply, the official says, because it requires
advertisementadvertisement Groups: Prosecute
Rutgers case as hate crime
New Jersey law among strictest in country;
federal charges unlikely proof of an intent
to cause violence to the victim.
Steven Goldstein, chairman of New Jersey-
based Garden State Equality, said in a
statement that his group considers Clementi’s
death a hate crime.
“We are heartbroken over the tragic loss of a
young man who, by all accounts, was brilliant,
talented and kind,” Goldstein said. “And we are
sickened that anyone in our society, such as
the students allegedly responsible for making
the surreptitious video, might consider
destroying others’ lives as a sport.”
Former assistant Essex County prosecutor
Luanne Peterpaul, who is vice chairwoman of
Garden State Equality, said in order to apply
the hate crime law prosecutors would need to e
stablish that the defendants were motivated
to act because they perceived Clementi as gay.
But that can be hard to prove, she said.
Gay rights groups say Clementi’s death is the
latest example of a long-standing problem:
young people who kill themselves because
they’re bullied about being gay — regardless of
whether they are.
In response to Clementi’s death and others,
the group Parents, Families & Friends of
Lesbians and Gays said it would issue a “call to
action” on the topic.
Last week, Dan Savage, a columnist at the
Seattle weekly newspaper The Stranger,
launched the It Gets Better Project, a YouTube
channel where gay, lesbian and bisexual adults
share the turmoil they experienced when they
were younger — and show how their lives
have gotten better.
NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams and The
Associated Press contributed to this report.
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