Monday, October 16, 2006

60 Minutes on the Duke Lacrosse Case

I rarely watch 60 Minutes. But I flipped over to see if football was still on, and I saw they were covering the Duke Lacrosse case.

And I NOT a fan of CBS News, but I have to credit them with an excellent report. They bring together the facts to show what we have here: an unethical District Attorney, Mike Nifong, who is more interested in making political hay out of this case than in justice.

The evidence shows that the three men indicted are innocent, but more than once, the authorities have shown themselves uninterested in the evidence.

And, on camera, Duke Law professor James Coleman pretty much accused Mr. Nifong of prosecutorial misconduct:

60 Minutes asked James Coleman, a prominent law professor at Duke University Law School who helped establish guidelines in North Carolina designed to protect against false identifications in police line-ups. He says this line-up broke one basic principle: there were no “filler” photos, no pictures of people not connected to the case. The accuser only saw photos of lacrosse players who police told her were at the party.

"If she’s told all of these people who were considered suspects were at the party, so you pick three and we’ll indict those three," Coleman says.

"So she can’t make a mistake," Bradley remarks.

"Can’t make a mistake," Coleman replies.

Professor Coleman says the line-up ordered by the D.A. for the Duke lacrosse case violated local, state and federal guidelines.

And later:

"I think that [Mike Nifong] pandered to the community by saying 'I'm gonna go out there and defend your interests in seeing that these hooligans who committed the crime are prosecuted. I'm not gonna let their fathers, with all of their money, buy you know big-time lawyers and get them off. I'm doing this for you.' You know, what are you to conclude about a prosecutor who says to you, 'I'll do whatever it takes to get this set of defendants?' What does it say about what he's willing to do to get poor black defendants," Coleman asks.

Asked if he thinks the D.A. committed prosecutorial misconduct, Coleman says, "Yes, I mean I think that’s the whole point. And if this case resulted in a conviction, I think there would be a basis to have the conviction overturned based on his conduct. I think in this case, it appears that this prosecutor has set out to develop whatever evidence he could to convict people he already concluded were guilty."

Read here for more. (And in the interests of disclosure, I’m a Duke alum.)

I think this case is part of a much larger problem. I’ve long been troubled by those prosecutors who are more interested in scalps than in justice. They have a lot of power to destroy people’s lives. And that unscrupulous men like Mike Nifong are all too willing to abuse that power – with little of no risk of punishment for their abuse of power – honestly scares me.

I wish I had great ideas for reform. I don’t. But perhaps District Attorney should not be an elected office. They often get elected on the basis of “I’m going to get those fill in the blank” campaigns. That’s certainly what has happened in Durham County.

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