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What Are the Chances Webcam Suicide Defendant Will Be Deported?

by Steve Weinstein
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Friday Mar 16, 2012
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Everyone has been following the dramatic case of Dharun Ravi. The former student at Rutgers University in New Jersey set up a webcam and invited others to watch his gay roommate entertain another man in their dorm room.

Now, the jury has decided. Ravi has been convicted of hate crimes and other charges. If the conviction sticks, Ravi faces several years in jail. Rather than accept a plea bargain by pleading guilty, Ravi rolled the dice by going to trial. By doing so, he also exposed himself to possible deportation.

Ravi and his parents are immigrants from India who reside here as permanent residents. He faces 15 charges, some of them felonies. By law, if convicted of certain felonies, he can be permanently barred from the United States after serving his term in jail.

But what are the chances of sentence actually being carried out? EDGE spoke to one of the most prominent attorneys who specialize in such cases about this very public trial.

Now in private practice in New York, Michael Wildes is a former federal prosecutor and mayor of Englewood, N.J. He has appeared on CNN and other newscasts as an expert on deportation cases. Wildes represented the government in several high-profile immigration cases, including one prohibiting former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi from residing in New Jersey during a United Nations summit.


According to Wildes, if a person is charged with a felony conviction of more than a year in jail -- or if under a year if the crime is one of "moral turpitude" under the law -- the convicted defendant can, indeed, be deported. Not only that, but he very likely would be.

"Very likely if convicted, he would be placed into removal proceedings," Wildes said a few days before the verdict was reached. "The only remedy would be if Ravi could prove that he would be subject to torture in an in Indian jail; highly unlikely to stick, according to Wildes. Additionally, he would be serving his time in a U.S. jail before deportation; it’s highly unlikely that, upon arrival in India, he would be seized by authorities there and put to torture.

There is one other avenue of possible escape: claiming that his removal would prove an insurmountable hardship to his family; also nearly impossible in this case, Wildes noted. Nor would his age (he’s under 21) or having been a college student have any bearing. Having reached the "age of majority," that is, over 18, he is considered a full adult under the law.

The operative term for deportation is "aggravated felon." Would that apply to Ravi? Yes, Wildes believes, if he is convicted of the crimes with which he is accused. "This is a cutting-edge case," the lawyer added. "He really feels innocent, that he committed no crime. He felt it might have been in poor taste, but not criminal in nature." (Wildes added that neither he nor anyone else knows what kind of deal the prosecution offered Ravi’s lawyers in return for a plea deal.)

The governor, of course, can commute the conviction. But, given the gravity of what happened to Tyler Clementi, the shy, aspiring violinist who so dramatically ended his life by jumping off the massive George Washington Bridge into Manhattan, and the attendant publicity, it is unlikely in the extreme that Chris Christie, a Republican with half an eye on higher office, would intervene on his behalf.

The case has fascinated the legal world, because of the intersection of so many circumstances that are only making their way into the legal world: bias via Internet spying; intimidation and humiliation via webcam; bullying through webcam.

Having been convicted, Ravi will have to surrender his passport and his family will have to post a hefty bond. Any conviction, of course, will probably be suspended pending the inevitable repeal. Ravi comes from a wealthy family that has made it clear that it intends to stand by him.

Even so, Wildes concluded, "It all goes to show that if he had a deal and didn’t do it, he either thought he had a very good immigration lawyer or he has a very bad criminal lawyer."


Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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