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by Dean Tong, MSc.
April 17, 2007

There are lessons we can learn from the Duke University rape scandal. Make no mistake. The rape of any woman or sexual molestation of any child is a despicable and unconscionable criminal act and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent allowed by law. In fact, housing at the first tier in San Quentin is too good for adult rapists and child molesters. There’s a place far below the foundation of this Earth for the likes of people like that.

But, let’s look at what unfolded with the three Duke University lacrosse players over the last 13 months. The three college men, Evans, Finnerty, and Seligmann, were arrested March of 2006 for allegedly forcing themselves upon the accuser, Crystal Mangum, for sexual purposes, and kidnapping her. Their bail bonds were at first exorbitant at about $400,000.00 apiece. They were then indicted by a Grand Jury. By definition, this means the State of North Carolina had enough evidence (so they thought) to bind them over for trial.

Then Mike Nifong took over and worked out a deal with the head of a local DNA lab whereby only positive matching DNA results of the three defendants would be made discoverable. Not only did the DNA results come back depicting no matches between Evans, Finnerty, Seligmann, and Mangum, but also a separate man’s DNA pattern did match that of Mangum. To exacerbate matters, Nifong acted ultra vires and lied to the court on the DNA issue.

As Nifong awaits his fate from the North Carolina Bar Asoociation (who has filed an ethics complaint against him) and the North Carolina Supreme Court, the acting Attorney General, Roy Cooper, has dismissed all criminal charges due to insufficient evidence and officially declared the former defendants innocent. Calling Nifong an overreaching rogue prosecutor and suggesting a new law be enacted to put the brakes on prosecutors like Nifong, it appears that Cooper has opened the door for the railroaded lacrosse players to sue for damages.

Yet, I think it is incumbent upon all of us (judges, prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, legislators, “experts,” et al) to take a step back and learn from the mistakes made at Duke, namely:

  • Prosecutorial misconduct is more common than not in sex crimes cases and one can look at the shear numbers of plea bargains to confirm the same
  • All Americans, regardless of the crime or heinous nature of it, must be innocent until proven guilty
  • We must remove from cases all those professionals who cannot be fair, impartial and objective and who suffer from confirmation bias
  • We must apply the brakes to news conferences at-will even in high-profile cases since the court of public opinion always has an affect in the court of law
  • We must act with due haste in these cases and not allow jurisprudence to languish
  • We must see it to it that all those who enter our court system are afforded due process and the legal right to clear their names regardless of their monetary status