Q: Iâ€™ve heard about the Rutgers student that committed suicide. What are the laws in Colorado and the rules at CSU in a situation like that?
A: The students that posted the live video stream of Tyler Clementi have been charged with invasion of privacy under New Jersey law. Prosecutors there are still exploring whether additional charges such as a hate crime can be applied.
In Colorado, we have a few laws that could apply in a similar situation. Colorado has a criminal invasion of privacy statute. This statute states that:
A person who knowingly observes or takes a photograph of another personâ€™s intimate parts without that personâ€™s consent, in a situation where the person observed or photographed has a reasonable expectation of privacy, commits criminal invasion of privacy.
A photograph as used in the statute would include any live feed or video.
This crime is classified as a class two misdemeanor and could be punished by up to one year in jail.
Additionally, Colorado implemented a bias-motivated crime or â€œhate crimeâ€ statute in 2005. Under this statute a person commits a crime if:
â€œWith the intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that personâ€™s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation, he or she: (a) Knowingly causes bodily injury to another person; or (b) By words or conduct, knowingly places another person in fear of imminent lawless action directed at that person or that personâ€™s property and such words or conduct are likely to produce bodily injury to that person or damage to that personâ€™s property; or © Knowingly causes damage to or destruction of the property of another person.
Depending on the section of the statute violated, this crime is punishable by up to 6 years in prison. The difficulty in prosecuting under this statute in a situation such as the one at Rutgers is the concept of state of mind or â€œMens Rea.â€
Prosecutors must prove that the person â€œknowinglyâ€ did something. Knowingly requires that the actor is aware that his conduct is practically certain to cause the result.
Therefore, the prosecutor must wrestle with proving that the person charged would have been practically certain that posting the live video feed would result in bodily injury or fear of imminent lawless action. Other possible charges in Colorado could include harassment, stalking or even criminally negligent homicide or manslaughter.
Additional legal action could be taken in civil court where only monetary damages could be awarded. Someone could be sued for invading the privacy of another and be held liable for any harm or death that resulted from their actions. The standard for proving liability would be much lower in a civil court than in the criminal examples.
They would be found liable â€œif the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.â€
At CSU, the student conduct code addresses harassment of any member of the University community. This covers verbal or physical harassment on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, age, religion or physical disability.
Additionally, the conduct code specifically covers sexual misconduct including taking or posting photographs/images of a sexual nature without consent. Violation of the code of conduct can result in a number of sanctions up to expulsion from the University.
Forrest Orswell is a staff attorney for Student Legal Services. SLS is available to students needing help with their legal issues. They can be found in room 182 of the Lory Student Center, online at sls.colostate.edu or by calling 491-1482. Send your questions for this column to the Director of SLS, Kathleen Harward, at firstname.lastname@example.org.