Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Hard Question

Today I am rolling out a new feature called "The Hard Question" in which I encourage you the readers to offer your input into various issues of the day. Let's start with case of the Duke lacrosse players.
The Attorney General of North Carolina announced last week that all charges would be dismissed against Reade Seligmann, Colin Finnerty and David Evans, the 3 remaining Duke lacrosse players who had been accused of assaulting an exotic dancer during a team party in March of last year.
The case was instantly sensational, raising as it did on the surface questions of race and sex, privilege and class and the relationship of a wealthy elite school to a town with a considerable black population. The players were suspended. The coach was fired. Guys were led off in hand cuffs. The pictures made newspapers everywhere.
Only the case against them started unraveling almost overnight. One of the players could account for his whereabouts at the time of the incident. The other dancer that was present testified that no assault took place. The accuser, who had a prior history of making accusations of sexual assault, put out more stories than O. Henry. Finally, and most damning, there was no DNA evidence matching these guys up to the victim which is unheard of in these types of cases according to a couple of prosecutor types of my acquaintance.
The prosecutor, Mike Nifong, now has real problems with his license. The North Carolina Bar is looking into charges of wrongful or malicious prosecution. As will it should. All in all, it is beginning to look like Nifong brought these charges hastily in order to get elected Prosecuting Attorney. For a good analysis of this go to . It appears that he will get his.
But what of the players? What do they do to get their lives back? For the rest of their days, they will forever be remembered as the guys in the "Duke lacrosse case." Sure, they were behaving badly on the night in question. But being young, drunk and horny isn't a crime. What about the coach who was discharged from a job he loved by all accounts? How can he receive some measure of justice?
Which brings me to today's Hard Question: Should the accuser be prosecuted for making a false accusation? The Attorney General has said that there are no plans to bring charges against her. I realize the policy decisions that go into the decision not to prosecute. You certainly do not want to discourage victims of sexual assault from coming forward. This is a sensitive and complicated issue. Just because a case cannot be made in some instances does not mean that the accuser is lying. I understand all that.
But this is a pretty extreme example of the damage that bringing what now appears to be a palpably false accusation of a heinous crime can cause. Lives were damaged, Duke's reputation was tarnished and the criminal justice system in Durham County took a hit as well. Is it a completely crazy notion that everybody responsible should be held accountable?
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below. You may use your name, use an assumed name or leave your comments anonymously.
A note of caution: I reserve the right to edit or delete any comments that are inappropriate before they are published. So those of you that find rape jokes hilarious need not bother.
Fire Away!


Polycarp said...

This is all pretty heinous, but I don't think prosecuting him for making the charge is warranted. After all, he did take this case to the grand jury. They heard the accuser's story and decided to indict. The grand jury process is one-sided and fraught with opportunites for prosecutorial manipulation, but to me the indictment was a meaningful step in the process, and an indication that the accuser was believable at first, even if her story did not hold up over time.

The most serious things Nifong ,did to me, were to withhold exculpatory evidence, make untrue statements to the press, and inflame racial tension for political gain. The first was certainly intentional, is prohibited by our Rules of Profesional Conduct (which are based closely on the ABA Rules) and may result in discipline from the State Bar. Fanning racial flames was intentional but not at all uncommon, regrettably, by pople on all points of the political spectrum. The third thing, making untrue statements to the press, was at worst reckless, because it appears in the early days he just assumed the accuser was telling the truth without checking the facts.

I would not advocate prosecuting any public figures for the way they do their jobs. It's hard enough to get good people in public service jobs anyway, and if hey were worried about being prosecuted it would make it even harder. I think the North Carolina State Bar is the appropriate tribunal, and I have been impressed by the way they handled this. They have stood up for defendants and against overzealous prosecutors in the past, and are not at all reticent about doing so.

Sorry for going on, but you know how I am.

tmfw said...

I was talking about prosecuting the accuser. Which I now semi-retract since according to the piece on 60 Minutes she is nuttier than a pecan pie.

Polycarp said...

The North Carolina Attorney General said that prosecuting her was not possible because Ms. Magnum actually believes her stories as she's telling them, and intent is an element of perjury.

Anonymous said...

One of the young men interviewed (60 Minutes?) stated he didn't feel prosecuting the woman would help the situation. After the smoke clears, of course, the three might think differently.

Yeah, I think Nifong should be charged with something. I saw clips when this first happened of
Nifong talking to a black college audience. He was milking their outrage dry. Surely to God all but ruining the lives of three people is worth a consequence other than public chastisement.

And can we assume that the Rev Al will apologize for his rush to judgment when this case first appeared on the screen? If he's done so, I've missed it. I'm not holding my breath.