Emily Bazelon has an op-ed in the NYT arguing it’s unfair for Dharun Ravi to face ten years in prison for his conviction on invasion of privacy and a hate crime. In 2010, Mr. Ravi set up a webcam to catch his Rutgers roommate, Tyler Clementi, in sexual situations with men, and then tweeted and texted about it, inviting others to watch. Mr. Clementi committed suicide.
In tort law, there is the Thin Skull Rule, which holds that you “take your victim as you find him.” If you push me down, I might have a skinned knee and need a band-aid. Or I might have hemophilia and bleed to death. Your bad luck, and you face the consequences legally.
I doubt that Mr. Ravi intended to drive Mr. Clementi to his death. But he had no way of knowing how he would react. Another victim might have punched Mr. Ravi or changed roommates (as Mr. Clementi was trying to do) and gone on with his life. Mr. Ravi has to deal with the consequence that Mr. Clementi chose instead to end his life. He has to take Mr. Clementi as he found him.
Ms. Bazelon compares the Ravi case to that of five teenagers who also faced ten years in prison for their role in bullying Phoebe Prince, a fifteen-year-old Massachusetts girl who committed suicide. She writes that the district attorney “wisely resolved the cases” with the teenagers getting “probation and community service.” But as Ms. Bazelon notes, Mr. Ravi was offered community service if he admitted the invasion of privacy. So the difference here is not a harsh prosecution, but a stupid defendant.
Mr. Ravi behaved stupidly in his treatment of Mr. Clementi. Offered mercy, he behaved stupidly again in his rejection of a plea bargain. I can’t feel sorry for him.
Maybe Tyler Clementi would have jumped off the George Washington Bridge someday. But Dharun Ravi shouldn’t have pushed him.