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Deportation at stake for former US student if convicted in webcam spying case
NEW BRUNSWICK, New Jersey (AP) ' The case that kick-started conversations across the U.S. about gay youths and Internet privacy was sent Wednesday to a jury that must decide whether a former university student is a criminal or just a young man who was confused by seeing two men kiss.
The Indian-born Dharun Ravi, now 20, is accused of viewing a few seconds of his roommate's intimate encounter with another man in their dormitory room in September 2010 and telling people about it in text messages, tweets and in person. The roommate, Tyler Clementi, later jumped to his death.
Ravi could face years in prison if convicted of charges including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, a hate crime.
He could also face deportation to India, where he remains a citizen. An expert says the risk of deportation is highest if he is convicted on the most serious charges.
Last year, prosecutors offered Ravi a plea bargain that called for no prison time ' and help avoiding deportation.
"The decision was made by his legal team to roll the dice," said Michael Wildes, a New York City immigration lawyer who is not involved in the case. "We'll see whether it was a good decision."
Wildes said immigration authorities could seek to have Ravi deported if he is convicted of any crime that lands him a prison sentence of a year or more.
In theory, all 15 of the charges he faces ' among them are hindering apprehension, tampering with a witness and tampering with evidence ' could result in prison time. But incarceration is likely only if he's convicted of one of the two second-degree bias intimidation charges he faces.
Wildes said the government could also seek to deport Ravi if he's convicted of a crime it considers to involve "moral turpitude," whether he's imprisoned for it or not. The list of those crimes is long, Wildes said.
Any deportation decision would have to be made by a federal immigration judge. And, Wildes said, Ravi could argue that his deportation would harm U.S. citizens or that he should remain in the country because he has lived here legally with his family since he was a young boy and because he has no prior criminal record.
As for the immigration help from state authorities, Wildes said such offers are usually "empty promises."
The trial focused on a few days in the Rutgers University dormitory where Ravi and Clementi, both 18-year-olds, were randomly assigned to be first-year roommates.
There are relatively few factual disputes in the case. The challenge for jurors could be deciding whether the laws apply to what Ravi is alleged to have done.
Ravi can be convicted of intimidation if he's also found guilty of an underlying invasion-of-privacy charge. And to convict him of bias intimidation, jurors would have to be convinced that he intended to intimidate Clementi or his guest, or that Clementi reasonably believed Ravi wanted to intimidate him because he was gay.
Clementi's death was one in a string of suicides by young gays around the country in September 2010 and became probably the best known. President Barack Obama commented on it in an online video.
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