New Jersey’s 2002 hate crimes law enhances the severity of any violations that are found to be motivated by bias. Since the verdict, Ravi’s lawyer has asked the judge for mercy—to overturn the verdict, grant a new trial, or downgrade the convictions on grounds that Ravi’s transgressions were not violent.

But Middlesex County First Assistant Prosecutor Julia McClure countered that Ravi, now 20, should go to jail. In her May 10 sentencing memo to the judge, she quoted instant messages Ravi typed from his home in Plainsboro, N.J., about 12 to 16 hours after learning his roommate had probably committed suicide.

“How can I convince my mom to let me go back Friday night and get drunk,” Ravi wrote to a friend.

McClure wrote that Ravi had done nothing to show his mind-set had changed from the “callous” and “arrogant attitude” shown in those chats.

Ravi has told reporters he “didn’t act out of hate” and “wasn’t uncomfortable with Tyler being gay.” Ravi’s friends recently wrote to the judge that the defendant was a helpful, caring guy, but they did not testify at the trial where they would have been cross-examined.

Some argue against stiffer sentences for bias crimes. James B. Jacobs, a New York University School of Law professor, says the Ravi case “looks miles away from the kind of image pictured when people advocated these laws and thought they were targeting horrific, vicious members of neo-Nazi groups. This looks like an ordinary person in an ordinary stupid conflict.”

Further, he says, it makes no sense for one person’s injury to deserve more of a punishment than another’s. “The last thing we need in this society is the fight about the worthiness of different kinds of victims,” Jacobs says.

Supporters of increased sentences for bias crimes, however, argue they send a message of zero tolerance and underscore the horrors of bloodshed from bigotry.

The 2009 expansion of the federal hate crimes law was named after Matthew Shepard, the gay college student was kidnapped and left to die, tied to a fence on a Wyoming ranch.

Stephanie Coontz, a historian at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., who heads the nonprofit Council on Contemporary Families, applauded the progress in efforts to prevent mistreatment due to race, gender, or sexual identity.

“It’s very good we are beginning to recognize groups that have historically been discriminated against, how painful it can be and how overwhelming that denigration and bullying can be when it’s allowed to go on,” Coontz said. “On the other hand, it also allows us to not think through the best way to handle these kinds of crimes.”

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