D.R.: Prosecutors gone awry
Raleigh, N.C., District Attorney Mike Nifong said some damaging things while taking up the case of Duke lacrosse players allegedly raping a dancer at a party.
Basically, he exaggerated the hell out of the case and trashed the reputations of three players charged with sexually abusing the black woman.
The case fell apart at the seams rather quickly, the young men were exonerated and Nifong is on trial by the state bar, which ought to take his license to practice law away forever.
Hyperbole by lawyers, where’s the surprise? Prosecutors and defense teams holler routinely ahead of trials, even ahead of investigations, as Nifong did. He filed charges even though he had no evidence, and he compounded the crime by talking loudly and publicly about the lacrosse players as “rapists.”
No doubt some of these kids are overprivileged louts. The whole party thing in an off-campus house serves at its own black eye on the program and Duke University. But it ain’t rape.
Nifong’s downfall was chasing votes instead of an honest, balanced pursuit of justice.
Our law enforcement failed in similar ways in Eagle County, with the Kobe Bryant rape case.
A new sheriff went for a splashy arrest before the young district attorney had progressed far enough in the investigation to determine whether there was a case, and on came the TV trucks and a lot of silly stuff.
The rush cost the sheriff and prosecutor their reputations. Both won re-election, but the votes were a lot closer than they otherwise would have been. The prosecutor was fortunate that Eagle County was just part of his five-county district, because our county went for an unknown defense attorney from a far edge of the district over the incumbent.
They also very clearly did not know their victim. She wound up playing them for fools, ducking the criminal trial by refusing to cooperate just as the jury was being selected.
The justice was purely poetic. The girl got her settlement. Kobe got out of an embarrassing trial, for a price.
A more tempered approach to the case would have shaken out the girl’s motives and perhaps even pierced the mystery of whether or when a consensual situation became an assault. I doubt either of the parties directly involved even know.
But that’s an old, rehashed story now. Thankfully.
The point here is that prosecutors need to be a lot more responsible in their remarks. Sure, that might be less “fun” in the limelight. But it would be the truly responsible course.
Don’t let the defense’s rantings knock you off stride, prosecutors. You do not need to join the fray. Just leave it at we believe we have a case and we’ll present it in the proper venue, in the proper perspective.
Oh, and make damn sure you actually do have a case before you get yourself into it. That should be 101 stuff.
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