“Until Proven Innocent,” an account of the Duke lacrosse case, should be ranked high among works that disprove the notion that those charged with serious crimes are invariably guilty and that those who are acquitted somehow beat the system. Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson pillory not only the prosecutor in the supposed sexual-assault case – he was eventually disbarred after charges against the three players were dropped before going to trial – but also the president of Duke University and those on his faculty who were willing to sacrifice innocent students as a bizarre form of racial reparation. The Duke case demonstrates how contemporary political correctness, run amok, can deform the legal system just as dramatically as other prejudices have in the past.
What is most interesting about the Duke lacrosse case is that the prosecutor almost certainly began his investigation with the best of motives. The alleged victim was a minority woman struggling to make a living by stripping for wealthy, well-educated and athletic young men, who he understandably saw as “spoiled brats” taking what they believe was their due from a woman who they had paid. The prosecutor, who had been active in the civil rights movement earlier in his life, probably saw this case as part of a pattern. He had little sympathy for the lacrosse players and much sympathy for the alleged victim. The problem was that he viewed the facts through the distorting prism of this sympathy. To him, the lacrosse players were bad kids who did a bad thing and then lied about it, while the alleged victim was a struggling woman who told the truth. But as John Adams reminded the jury during his defense of those charged with committing the Boston Massacre: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” That statement ought to be enblazened on the wall of every prosecutor’s office, so that they do not allow prejudices – whether positive or negative – to distort reality.
Reality is rarely black and white. Facts in criminal cases are often unclear. Guilt is frequently a matter of degree. Some of the Duke lacrosse players may well have crossed the line from civility to incivility. But it is unlikely that any crossed the much more important line into felonious criminality. Certainly some of those charged were wrongly accused, as the evidence ultimately showed…
— from our Introduction by Alan M. Dershowitz (May 20, 2013)
In Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson detail the fabrication of rape charges against three Duke lacrosse team members, Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty, and Reade Seligmann. In the end, however, all three boys were cleared of any charges, leaving the American public left wondering how and why the American justice system had so clearly failed. The answer lies within the individuals involved in the investigation and prosecution of the case, along with the sensationalism created by the media.
The year two thousand and six was an election year for Durham County District Attorney Michael Nifong. And in March, the primaries were just around the corner. Although Nifong ultimately won the election, it would cost him his reputation, his career, and his law license. During Nifong’s reign as DA, injustice perilously loomed, threatening an entire community. His prosecutorial misconduct during the Duke lacrosse rape case is “perhaps without parallel in modern American history.”
Although the team admitted to hosting a party in which two strippers performed on the night of March 13, 2006, that is where the truth in the Duke lacrosse rape allegations ends. Crystal Magnum, one of the strippers that performed that night, alleged she had been gang raped by three lacrosse players. Despite her assertions, no credible testimony or physical evidence ever indicated that an attack had taken place. Upon a medical examination, “the doctors and nurses were unanimous in finding no physical evidence of the attack described by Crystal—that is, a brutal assault by three, five, or twenty varsity athletes, lasting a half hour. No bruises. No bleeding… No grimacing, sweating, changes in vital signs, or other symptoms ordinarily associated with the serious pain of which she complained.” Additionally, there was no DNA match to any team member; nor was Magnum’s DNA found in the bathroom where the alleged rape occurred. More disturbing, Nifong failed to consider exonerating alibi evidence presented to him in the form of phone records, time-stamped photos, taxicab and ATM receipts, and dorm-entry electronic records.
Instead of promoting the Constitutional maxim that individuals are “innocent until proven guilty,” the press, joined by Duke faculty and students, quickly proclaimed the boys’ guilt, relentlessly attacking the players, their families, and collegiate athletes more generally. Duke’s lacrosse team was comprised mostly of privileged white males, and according to Taylor and Johnson, many professors and students resented Duke lacrosse players for their affluent background and “big-man-on-campus” status. One headline for the Los Angeles Times read:
Lax Environment; Duke Lacrosse Scandal Reinforces a Growing Sense That College Sports Are Out of Control, Fueled by Pampered Athletes with a Sense of Entitlement.
Unfortunately, in Nifong’s quest for “justice,” he failed to incorporate any credible evidence into his investigation. Taylor and Johnson declare Nifong’s prosecution to “be a model for a criminal law exam question of ways to muddy the truth and finger innocent suspects, whether by incompetence or by design.” The Disciplinary Hearing Commission panel agreed and revoked Nifong’s law license because he had “repeatedly and intentionally violated ethics guidelines and lied to the court, the defense counsel, and the State Bar.” Lane Williamson, DHC chairman, declared the Duke Lacrosse case to be a “fiasco…Nifong was driven by a self-deception arising out of self-interest.” The media and general public had foolishly “rush[ed] to judgment based upon an unquestioning faith in what a prosecutor had told them.” Rather, careful consideration should always be given to the evidence and the presumption of innocence.
It has long been a bedrock principle of justice that the duty of every prosecutor is not to win a case, but that justice shall be done.
Our special volume includes a full introduction by Alan Dershowitz and updated chapter by the original authors. Purchase your personal edition here today!