60 Minutes on the Duke Lacrosse rape case

Topics: Civil Liberties
15 Jan 2007

From: Ervan Darnell

It's a shocking story on how unreliable the judicial system is. Let me start with the most relevant excerpts:

>Dr. Brian Meehan was hired by District Attorney Mike Nifong to conduct DNA testing on evidence collected hours after the alleged attack last March. What Meehan discovered in his lab has undermined the prosecution's case because he found DNA on the rape kit and the accuser's underwear that belonged to at least four unidentified men, none from any of the lacrosse players. But when Meehan issued a report of his findings, he left out that potentially exculpatory information about the other men.

>Leaving test results out of a report is a violation of industry standards, and of Meehan's own company's guidelines; the organization that accredits forensic labs has launched an investigation of his company.
>At a hearing last month, Meehan testified that he and Nifong agreed to limit the report to "just the stuff that matched" [....] The key here is that the D.A. was required by law to turn that information over to the defense in the first place. He didnt do that until a judge ordered him to six months after he learned about the DNA belonging to other men. Whats more, during that time, the D.A. told the court he was "not aware of any additional information" which may be exculpatory. [1]

Let's start with the obvious: the DA's job is get a conviction, however much twisting it takes. That they are willing to ignore exculpatory evidence compromises the whole system. Accordingly, everything they say must be discounted as noise (I suppose the same goes for the defense, but they are representing their own theories rather than repeating presumed facts found by the police so it has a different weight).

Whenever we hear about how reliable DNA evidence is, it's worth remembering that usually the DNA labs work for the prosecution. It's not very reliable at all. If the investigator can be manipulated into this sort of omission, it's hard to imagine what deceit he wouldn't commit under pressure from the DA.

I think about how many death row cases involve DAs failing to fully comply with discovery. Once executed, the state has literally buried its mistake. It's sufficient reason to oppose the death penalty, even if one otherwise finds it philosophically acceptable.

The transcript lists numerous other ways in which the case is ridiculously weak. Still:

>The three still stand accused of sexual assault and kidnapping.

How is that anything but double jeopardy? I suppose it's like conspiring to sell drugs when there weren't actually any drugs nor actually any sale.

Another sad note is that a rape victim's (real or imagined) testimony is demonstrated to not be worth very much.

[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/01/11/60minutes/main2352512.shtml
"60 Minutes, 1/14/07"

Ervan Darnell
ervan@kelvinist.com http://www.kelvinist.com

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