Former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi was convicted on Friday, March 15, of a political crime, a so-called “hate crime”. Ravi, the defendant, had invaded the privacy of his Rutgers roommate, Tyler Clementi, when he secretly filmed Clementi kissing a man and then placing the film on his Twitter account. Tragically, Tyler Clementi committed suicide three days later. Ravi’s conviction for his actions in this case was proper and was in the tradition of our system of jurisprudence. His additional conviction for his motives however, his so-called hate crime conviction, whether valid or not, smacks of totalitarianism.
The foundation of our American system of justice is based upon the principle that a person is to be judged not according to his motives but according his actions. In cases of trials for crimes, and in the context of due process, such factors as intent and motive are key elements of proof and, as such, these factors should be presented as evidence. In fact, if a prosecutor fails to present such evidence this could lead to a mistrial. Evidence pertaining to motive has always been, and rightfully, included in a criminal trial and this evidence includes the prejudice or bigotry of the defendant. This goes to motive and intent to commit the crime. Thus, in a trial setting, if the prosecutor presents evidence to indicate that the defendant had something against the victim because of the person’s race, religion, or sexual orientation, this evidence justly serves as a legitimate factor toward conviction.
But when a law places such evidence as hate and prejudice, evidence that has traditionally been applied to motive, as a separate and as an additional crime in and of itself, one that would possibly require a separate ruling, a separate conviction, and a separate punishment, such a law establishes a political crime. Political crimes have been typical of totalitarian regimes such as Communist China which executes an average of 50 thousand political prisoners per year. In China, political crimes are arbitrary and range across the board. In essence, the Chinese government makes up the crime and applies it against its opposition. The German Nazis were also known for this interpretation of jurisprudence as well. Nazi Germany established a separate court system, a “people’s court” as a means of trying and convicting those accused of “crimes against the state” and these crimes included so-called genetic crimes.
Local and state governments are absolutely operating within the American tradition when they establish laws against bullying as was rightfully argued in this case. Bullying is an action that is provable by evidence. Having said this, the legal system should be an institution of last resort, particularly in these cases, as the institution, in this case a College, should act en loco parentis and engage in the best good faith effort to establish policies and standards of behavior and to punish violators internally. Only in extreme situations should the government be brought in to adjudicate.
The Rutgers University case was such an extreme situation. No private citizen should ever be subject to the humiliation of having what he does in the bedroom secretly taped and flashed on a screen for public viewing. This egregious crime, and the horrifying magnification of the crime by the tragic consequence of the poor victim traumatized to the point of taking his own life, should not blind us, however, to the principle that political crimes, crimes against motive as opposed to crimes against actions, have no place in a free society.