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In Dharun Ravi trial, criminal retribution will not serve justice

Mar 15, 2012

from the Guest Column by Joseph C. d'Oronzio in the Star-Ledger:

I watch with increasing discomfort as the arch of justice sways with uncertainty in that New Brunswick courtroom where the fate of former Rutgers University freshman Dharun Ravi is being considered.

...Rather than have lawyers duke this out in court, all that energy could have been better deployed if focused directly on the participants in this tragedy: Ravi, his family and classmates, the Clementi parents and even “M.B.” The real harm done needs repair and this cannot be done in the adversarial, retributive context.

The prosecution’s approach: While Clementi’s suicide is not part of the charge, it is held out, almost coyly, as a subtext. To justify a 10-year prison sentence, the state must have proved Ravi’s “hatred and bias,” and in so doing exploits the very salaciousness and preconceived prejudice that it condemns.

The defense, for its part, attempts to wrap itself in innocence and denial of any wrongdoing. Horribly wrong invasion of privacy is not “surveillance of valuable technological equipment,” as claimed; editing text messages is not like changing your mind. And let’s face it, 18-year-old lascivious curiosity — whether hetero- or homosexual — is no stranger to freshman dormitories.

This charade of bad faith by prosecution and defense alike is as much a fault of the stage as it is of the actors. They are locked in an implacable drama, playing their roles and using their props with studied expertise.

These officers of the court are no more able to extract themselves from this context than Ravi or Clementi were able to step out of their environment. Each with terrible consequences.

It need not take this direction. By all accounts, the defendant is capable of appreciating his responsibility and is able to understand and work at restitution. Insofar as the prosecution represents the state and our society’s values, it also must admit some responsibilities.

This could set a new stage for addressing what is complicated but most concrete — in this case with a conscientious application of the restorative approach.

....As the case is handed to the jury, it’s still not too late for the judge to bring the lawyers into his chambers, away from the hungry media, and with the help of counselors or mediators, negotiate a third way out of this tragedy.

Read the whole column.

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