I’ve kept pretty quiet about the Duke lacrosse team rape allegations, but this new development raises some odd questions. The defense attorney is seeking federal intervention, accusing the prosecutor of misconduct:
“Cornacchia said Nifong had mishandled the case in his identifying of the three young men, his public statements and by withholding evidence. “‘He knew that the DNA didn’t match before he indicted the [defendants],’ Cornacchia said. ‘[When I was a prosecutor], I didn’t accuse anybody unless I had â€¦ reasonable doubt.’
“‘Accusation is destruction,’ he said.”
There are two angles here. The first is that the prosecutor’s handling of the case is extremely questionable. This summary is pretty damning:
“When prosecutors interviewed the accuser for the first time â€” last Thursday â€” she said she was uncertain whether there was penetration, which differs from statements she made to police in April.
“At that time, the accuser said she was brutally raped and beaten by three men during a lacrosse team party at a house near the Duke University campus, claiming that she was ‘vaginally penetrated by a male sex organ,’ without a condom. The accuser and another woman were hired as exotic dancers and paid to strip at the party.”
When the victim changes her story about a rather crucial piece of testimony, the logical reaction would be to dismiss her claims entirely. But the lawyer keeps clinging to every possibility of a trial.
On the other hand, though, federalism — the notion that state/local and federal processes should be basically independent — could take a blow here. It’s true that “accusation is destruction,” but DAs need a certain leeway in exploring cases and pressing charges.
In fact, if a prosecutor could be held liable for pushing cases without enough evidence, that would pretty much defeat the purpose of a jury trial. The idea behind the process is that prosecutors try to convict, defenders try to acquit and the judge or jury makes an unbiased decision. If the feds step in whenever a prosecutor presses charges with evidence short of “reasonable doubt,” by definition they’ll have to step in with every acquittal.
The odds are already stacked against the prosecutor in the “reasonable doubt standard,” so I am leery about attempts to further interfere with law enforcement’s job.