Too little too late.
Reade Seligman, 21, one of the innocent players who was accused and prosecuted, testified at the hearing. He recounted how Nifong refused for several months to meet with his lawyer, although DNA evidence had exonerated him, and the fact that he wasn’t even at the party where the rape was alleged to have taken place. Seligman testified how when confronted with his alibi Nifong “smirked” and said he was not interested in fiction. Seligman testified how his father collapsed on the floor when he learned the complaining witness had identified Seligman in a photo line-up. And finally, Seligman testified how he was ostracized by the Duke community once he was indicted. A classmate and study partner in his African studies class wrote in the student newspaper how the rape had “brought Jim Crow back to the South.”
Previously in the hearing, Raleigh attorney Brad Bannon testified that he spent 100 hours reviewing the 1,844 pages of DNA results. Six months earlier Nifong had released the results along with a summary of the findings. One problem: the summary did not list that another, un-charged male’s DNA was located in the samples tested. If not for the diligent work of this lawyer, innocent men might have gone to prison.
Who among us, when first hearing of the incident, did not say to themselves that the lacrosse players- all white and from privileged backgrounds- must be guilty? Who among us did not hope that the prosecutor would work quickly and efficiently to show that a black women could finally get justice in the South?
Just one problem: the student were innocent and the woman was a troubled liar.
Compound that with a prosecutor about to enter a difficult election, and you have all the ingredients for a tragedy.
This case illustrates just how much damage one prosecutor with the wrong ideas and ideals can cause. He wrecked the families of the young men who were accused; he brought disgrace to his office; and his actions contributed to a loss of confidence in the justice system.
The question we have is not what to do with Mr. Nifong. He should certainly be disbarred. The question we have is how many other Mr. Nifongs are out there?
We criminal defense attorneys call ourselves Liberty’s last line of defense. That was truly the case in the Duke prosecution. But for dedicated lawyers working when public opinion was strongly against them and their clients, innocent young men would probably have gone to prison.
We think our legislators and the public should think long and hard about the Duke case the next time they consider handcuffing criminal defense attorneys by taking away a defendant's ability to defend him or herself in court. Losing the right to the rebuttal closing argument as just happened here in Florida troubles us greatly. We view it not as an isolated incident, but the begining of a trend.
You damn well better believe any member of the Florida legislature would want their attorney to have the last word if their son was wrongfully accused of rape.
It is something to think about.
We can’t sign off without commenting briefly on the US Supreme Court’s decision in Bowles v. Russell.
Keith Bowles is serving a 15 year to life sentence imposed by an Ohio state court. When the federal judge denied his habeas corpus petition, he mistakenly told Bowles, that he had 18 days to file his notice of appeal. Bowles’ attorney filed the notice of appeal on the 17th day. After briefs were filed, the Court of Appeals granted a motion to dismiss based on lack of jurisdiction when Ohio argued that the appeal was not timely filed, as law required the notice of appeal to be filed within 14 days.
Justice David Souter writing for the four dissenters in the case spoke for us when he wrote that “it is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way.” He added, “There is not even a technical justification for condoning this bait and switch.”
Of course Justice Thomas wrote the majority opinion. And of course he based his reasons on Congress- “Because Congress decides whether federal courts can hear cases at all, it can also determine when, and under what conditions, federal courts can hear them,”
Once again- if it was a member of Congress’s family who got shut out of an appeal after a Judge gave incorrect instructions, we believe there would be a greater outcry to stop this insanity.
Just what kind of legal system treats its citizens this way? Our legal system. And it stinks.
You can read how the NY Times reported the case HERE
See you in court ignoring any advice our robed readers give us and our clients on how many days we have to appeal.