The Smartest Thing Yet Said About the Duke Case
There were a lot of stupid, over-the-top comments made yesterday by many of the people involved in the Duke lacrosse case during and after the point at which North Carolina's attorney general declared the three young defendants "innocent" of the sex assault charges against them. Some of the comments about the "injustice" of it all made the young men seem like the second coming of Nelson Mandela. Some of the comments about incompetence and maliciousness made hapless Durham County District Attorney Michael Nifong seem like Major Strasser in the film Casablanca. Instead of focusing upon those comments, let me focus instead upon the one comment I heard Wednesday that gratified and encouraged me.
It came from David Evans, one of the young men vindicated Wednesday. He acknowledged at a press conference after he was exonerated that he prevailed in large part because he was able to afford the best attorneys in North Carolina-- and also that many, many others there charged with similiar crimes are not so fortunate. About his parents he said: "I don't take lightly the fact that their hard work, their success and their sacrifice has allowed me to be represented by such fine lawyers. Many people across this country, across this state, would not have the opportunity that we did. And this could simply have been brushed underneath the rug just as another case and some innocent person would end up in jail for their entire life. And it's just not right. And I thank god every day that my parents have worked as hard as they have."
Evans continued: "So first and foremost, I hope that people can realize innocent people can be charged of a crime and it is up to the justice system to determine guilt or innocence, not the news, not speculators and not people with some other agenda. That is why there is a legal system. And today the legal system has prevailed." Amen. To me, Evans' comments go to the heart of the legacy of the Duke case. There is a chance that three poor young men (white or black) might have been able to rouse up competent attorneys who in turn would have outed prosecutor Michael Nifong for what he turned out to be. But not a good chance.
More likely than not our imaginary poor students would have been railroaded into a conviction and left to rot in some state prison somewhere. Sadly, it happens all the time in this country and we only hear about it when some lucky inmate is freed because DNA exonerates him or because some witness somewhere recants. The problem has been made worse over the past few decades by prosecutors, legislators and judges who have made it more difficult for convicted felons to raise issues of actual innocence during or after the appellate process. "Streamlining" is the word these people use as they narrow down the legal options available to men and women whose prosecutors "nifonged" them into a conviction.
On Wednesday, David Evans spoke for those people. Good for him. I hope he continues to speak out for them and that he never forgets how much of a difference his family's money played in ensuring his freedom.
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