By Mark Sweet, ESQ

Another tragic death on the George Washington Bridge, this time it was Tyler Clementi.  He was taped having sex with another male by his roommate who broadcasted it via iChat (an online messaging service like gchat or AIM) to others.  All of this because Clementi asked for the room for part of the night (known widely as “sex-ile”)While many of us have become sick of hearing about celebrity sex tapes (see: Hilton, Paris, Kardashian, Kim, etc.) it should be noted that there is nothing remotely entertaining about what happened here.

Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped into the Hudson River after posting a message on Facebook apologizing for what he was about to do (“Jumping off the gw bridge sorry”).  All of this because his roommate, Dharan Ravi and his friend Molly Wei wanted to play a bit of a prank on Ravi’s roommate.  Ravi and Wei set up a Skype feed from Ravi’s dorm room and then live-streamed the video to others.

So what types of crimes were committed? There seems to be a clear invasion of privacy.  Some are arguing that this might be a hate crime since Clementi was caught having sex with a man.

Privacy Rights

A person has certain expectations that what they do in the privacy of their own home (or housing) will be kept private.  There are obvious exceptions, like doing something in front of a large window for the entire world to see, but for the most part, what goes on inside your home is your private life.  Here’s where things might get a little bit tricky, Clementi and Ravi lived in the same space.  You are allowed to monitor your own space, so Ravi might be able to claim he was simply making sure no one stole anything from him.  However, given the messages he later posted, it seems doubtful that he really had any other motive than to humiliate Clementi.

Taping Someone Without Their Permission

Besides an incredible “ick” factor, it is illegal in many states to tape someone without their permission.  The act of taping someone without their consent is usually met with prison time, especially if the images are later transmitted to others.  This shouldn’t surprise anyone, the idea of a landlord installing a shower camera is undoubtedly wrong.  Here, there is absolutely no indication that Clementi gave Ravi permission to tape him.

Hate Crime

There is some indication that Prosecutors could charge Ravi and others with a hate crime if they committed these crimes against Clementi because he was gay.  However, the Prosecutors have to prove that the reason Ravi did what he did was because Clementi was gay, not just because he was a roommate that was “sex-iled” to another room while Clementi had sex.

What do you think about what happened? What should these people be charged with?