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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Cost of Overzealous Prosecution – The Continuing Saga of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Scandal

The consequences continue to mount for outgoing Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. He has been disbarred. His departure from office has been hastened by the Sheriff taking Mr. Nifong’s badge and the keys to his office, per the order of a North Carolina Superior Court Judge. There are rumblings of possible criminal contempt charges against the D.A. and civil lawsuits by the wrongly accused Duke lacrosse players.

Some, perhaps many, are celebrating the public downfall of the once outspoken D.A. I don’t begrudge anyone their right to celebrate, but I’m not sure celebration is the appropriate reaction to what has taken place. It’s all sad.

It’s sad that a prosecutor, apparently for political gain, so blatantly crossed the line and attempted to convict and jail young men who turned out to be innocent. It’s sad that innocent young men were paraded in front of the nation as lawless rapists. It’s sad that Duke University was so quick to cancel the lacrosse season and condemn their own innocent students. It’s sad that this case so starkly exposed that “innocent unless proven guilty” does not apply when it comes to public opinion and media coverage. You could even say it’s sad that a young woman was so troubled that she was willing to ruin the lives of innocent men by making false allegations – that impacted not just the young men and their families, but the university and the local community.

If you don’t think the word “sad” applies, you can substitute into that commentary string whatever term you feel is more appropriate; maybe “disappointing” or “outrageous” or “shocking.” The point is, this one case has raised some critical issues in the criminal justice system at large.

Do you believe this is the only case in which an overzealous prosecutor went too far to win a case? Or, are many of these injustices simply never exposed? Do you believe this is the first case in which an alleged victim made false allegations? Or, did the stars just align perfectly in this case to show what has happened across jurisdictions throughout the history of our legal system? In an identical case with less public exposure, economically disadvantaged defendants, and defense attorneys with less skill, experience and/or resources, what do you believe the outcome of this case would have been? Would three young men be sitting behind bars for the better part of the rest of their adult lives? Hopefully, this case has made you think. The cost of overzealous prosecution is rarely born by the prosecutor.

By: Attorney Richard V. Stevens
Civilian criminal defense lawyer and military defense lawyer
Military Defense Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens, PC

Blog postscript: Attorney Frank Spinner and I (attorney Richard Stevens) are former active duty military lawyers (JAG). Our perspectives and advice, therefore, are based upon our experience as military defense lawyers and as civilian criminal defense lawyers practicing exclusively in the area of military law. This blog addresses issues in military law, military justice, military discipline, military defense, court-martial practice, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and other military and/or legal topics. Nothing posted in this blog should be substituted for legal advice in any particular case. If you seek legal advice for a particular case, please contact The Law Offices of Richard V. Stevens & The Law Office of Frank J. Spinner for a free consultation.

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