Skip to comments.Lacrosse case leaving mark in courts
Posted on 05/27/2007 7:48:11 AM PDT by NCjim
The judicial system has a hangover. Call it the Mike Nifong effect.
In North Carolina and across the country, prosecutors with upright reputations are having to make assurances that they don't break the rules. Judges and lawyers have taken to using Nifong's name and the outcome of the sexual assault case against Duke University lacrosse case players as a shorthand for all manner of prosecutorial outrages. The case has made it harder for prosecutors nationwide to get funding or laws changed.
It has been just over a month since the state Attorney General exonerated the accused and called them the victims of a "rush to accuse." The specter of the case lingers.
"You get the feeling everybody's thinking about the unsaid elephant in the room," said Nick Saparilas, a Wake County criminal defense lawyer. "It's not fair to 99.9 percent of all the prosecutors that have to deal with that."
In some cases, the case is mentioned outright.
Edmund "Skip" Davis is a criminal defense lawyer in Austin, Texas. In a recent assault case he defended, Davis mentioned the Duke lacrosse case in both jury selection and his closing argument. Davis won the case. He is defending a rape case June 13 and expects to bring up the Duke case then, too.
Davis said the case, which illustrates the importance of the presumption of innocence, will embolden jurors, who may be reluctant to challenge the credibility of an accuser in a sexual assault case. Cross-examining the complaining witness in a sexual assault case, Davis said, is difficult because jurors punish a lawyer who puts on an aggressive cross-examination.
"What that case kind of did was, it changed the landscape. ... It finally leveled the playing field," Davis said. "They used to be able to trot out any old mule and call it a racehorse."
In February, a federal appeals court judge dropped Nifong's name to emphasize what he saw as misdeeds by the government in a case of international money laundering. And in a Durham courtroom last week, a Superior Court judge dismissed an assault and weapons case, citing what he said was witness intimidation by the man who was the chief investigator in the lacrosse case. During the hearing, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson and a defense lawyer disparaged the lacrosse case and Nifong's handling of it.
Nifong led the charge against the lacrosse players. He denounced them to the news media while trying to build a case in spite of nonexistent and contrary evidence. He removed himself from the case after the State Bar, the agency that licenses lawyers, accused him of ethics violations.
The Bar later added a charge that he had withheld DNA evidence favorable to the accused. After special prosecutors investigated the case, the state Attorney General said the players were innocent and the accusations were lies burnished by an out-of-control prosecution. The drama played out on a national news cycle.
Nifong has said he will not comment until his trial before the State Bar, scheduled for next month. He could not be reached.
"For whatever reason, Mr. Nifong has become a sort of poster boy to criminal defense lawyers," said Joshua Marquis, the district attorney for Clatsop County, Oregon. " 'See what Nifong did, this is what all prosecutors do and you're just hearing about it because this is a high-profile case.' They are actively pushing that agenda. If the public buys that, we're in for an even rougher ride than we normally are."
Marquis is a board member of the National District Attorneys Association but was not speaking on behalf of the organization. The group, which lobbies on behalf of prosecutors, won't comment on the case while Nifong's bar charges are pending. But the organization's president released a statement on prosecutorial ethics four days after Cooper dismissed the charges.
In the statement, association president Mathias H. Heck Jr., said that if the allegations against Nifong are true, they are the exception to the thousands of prosecutors working in the country.
But prosecutors have felt the damage done by the lacrosse case.
Marquis was recently in Washington to lobby Congress on a law that would provide financial relief to young public defenders and prosecutors who face serious law school debt. Marquis said he was told that the effort was going to be tough because of what had happened in Durham.
"Good prosecutors, and I know many of them across the country, including in North Carolina, do not try our cases in the press. We do not withhold evidence, and we do not use cases for political purposes," Marquis said.
In North Carolina, lobbying efforts on behalf of state prosecutors met a chilly response when the legislative session began, said Peg Dorer, director of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys. She said prosecutors have to now double their efforts to do everything right.
"There are some very angry people -- at not just Mike Nifong and the Duke lacrosse case and Duke and Durham. There are some very angry people at district attorneys," Dorer said. "Now's a good time to check your closet and make sure you are doing everything like you need to be doing."
Poor baby. The presumption of innocence is now the "elephant in the room"?
She said prosecutors have to now double their efforts to do everything right.
When sloppy work might take away the freedom (or even life) of someone who is innocent shouldn’t you aready make damn sure you do everything right?
Hey, don't forget the witness intimidation -- arresting the taxi driver on a long-dismissed bogus charge.
My belief is that the Elephant in the room is the fact that the woman who caused all this pain is free and loose and breeding.
Nothing has been done to prosecute her for ruining the reputation of these boys and the Lacrosse team.
She is free as a bird.
The 88 teachers who condemned these men havent received so much as a warning and are still teaching, their tripe.
Since prosecutors in most places are elected, and hawk percentage of cases investigated that result in a conviction as an election issue, I deny that the number of honest prosecutors has ever nudged the 70% range in my lifetime.
Nifong belongs in Jail ....
I think this all could have been avoided if NC provided Grand Jury transcripts so that the DA could be held accountable. The NC Grand Jury system is too pro-prosecution, defendants don't stand a chance. What on earth did Nifong present to the GJ? We'll never know!
And then there's Patrick Fitzgerald...
The rule should be the same sentence he advocated for them applies to him, because he lied.
The elephant in the room is that you have to have a presumption of innocence, probable cause, and you don't get to just chuck evidence that disproves your case. Maybe next time you'll choose your colleagues a little more carefully.
Don't like your job anymore? McDonald's and Winchell's Donuts has openings.
nifong should be in jail!
the duke faculty 88 + the president of duke should be dismissed!
nothing happened to the black woman accuser!!!
only the lacrosse coach/the team and most importantly these 3 innocents will need the rest of their lives to try and re-establish their permanently damaged reputations....
if this case had been in reverse as in the rape/murder case in kentucky of 5 black animals against the 2 whites...the lib/dem (pc) press would have done nothing!!!!
You've never been really Nifonged until you've been Fitzed.
Prosecutors can not only take away one’s freedom or life, but also their reputation in the community. However, far too many prosecutors are driven by their egos and personal agendas. Crooks/rapists/murderers should be locked up because they are guilty, not because the prosecutor has a personal agenda.
“The unsaid elephant” ... LOL! Maybe it could be a rock band!
how illiterate, everyone knows it’s “unspoken” not “unsaid”....
There is also the question of whether Duke wants to stay in Durham NC or move. To my thinking they have to move sine I can't picture a parent in his right mind sending a kid to any school in Durham at this point.
“The NC Grand Jury system is too pro-prosecution, defendants don’t stand a chance.’
They aren’t supposed to. It’s a hearing to see if there is sufficient reason to bring someone to trial, not convict them.
The proceeds need to remain hidden because, as you imply, the defendant isn’t there to refute charges, which may be wildly inappropriate and over the top. But they are just that ... charges, not convictions. It’s too hard to unsmear someone, so the records are kept sealed.