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Race to Injustice: Lessons Learned from the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case

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Overview

The American criminal justice system, though undoubtedly one of the best in the world, is far from perfect. Every once in a while a notorious case comes along and reveals its uglier sideā€”for instance, its differential treatment of whites and people of color. Such cases often garner huge amounts of national media attention and capture the sustained interest of a normally restless American public. Whatever their outcome, they provide academics with exceptional opportunities to study, learn, and teach about the justice system. They also offer the chance to study related matters, such as the conduct of particular law enforcement and other officials, as well as the underlying causes of crime and the public's reaction to it. The Duke lacrosse players' rape prosecution is one such case. One evening in March 2006, members of the lacrosse team held an off-campus party where alcohol was served and two erotic dancers were hired to perform. A disagreement broke out between the dancers and the players; later, one of the former, Crystal Mangum, alleged that three players had raped her. Mangum was black and relatively poor; the accused were white and relatively privileged. Up for re-election in a jurisdiction with many African American voters, District Attorney Mike Nifong pursued the case very aggressively. He used questionable identification procedures and was unusually outspoken in numerous local and national media appearances. Even after DNA evidence indicated that the defendants had not engaged in sexual activity with the victim, he declined to drop the charges. Worse, he hid other exculpatory DNA evidence. The case split the Duke campus, the Durham community, and observers at large intosharply divided factions. Desperately trying to preserve its hard-won reputation as an upper-echelon school, the university cancelled the lacrosse season, suspended the three indicted players, and commenced a series of internal investigations. After months of dramatic twists and turns, the North Carolina Bar Association charged Nifong with violating several ethics provisions based on his handling of the prosecution. Within days of being charged, Nifong relinquished the case to the North Carolina Attorney General who, after reviewing the proof, dismissed all remaining charges against the lacrosse players and publicly declared their innocence. After a thirteen-month ordeal, the case was finally over. Eventually, the disgraced Nifong was disbarred.

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Editorial Reviews

The Florida Bar Journal
Race to Injustice is a must-read for anyone who cares enough about equal justice in America to admit the criminal justice system is far from perfect and cries out for reform . . .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594605147
  • Publisher: Carolina Academic Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2009
  • Edition description: First
  • Pages: 434
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Seigel is a professor at the University of Florida Frederic G. Levin College of Law.

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