After watching North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper make his statement about the results of the review of the Duke University lacrosse rape case, I'm reminded of Mike Nifong's public statement which landed him in ethical hot water and which spurred outrage among the defense attorneys in this case and among those who had already labeled the case a hoax.
Only Cooper makes his harsh and prejudicial characterization less directly and makes it against the alleged victim in the case. Officially the case was dropped because of insufficient evidence to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, but Cooper's statement goes beyond what can or can't be proven against the defendants in this case.
The details of the statements are far different, but the motives behind the 2 very different statements are the same. Response to intense pressure from the public about this case.
[...] I promised a fresh and thorough review of the facts and a decision on the best way to proceed. I also said that we would have our eyes wide open to the evidence, but that we would have blinders on for all other distractions. [...] The result of our review and investigation shows clearly that there is insufficient evidence to proceed on any of the charges.
That part doesn't step over the line but the AG doesn't stop with the facts which led to all charges being dropped and the fact that the case against any and all lacrosse players is over. The beliefs about Nifong having "a tragic rush to accuse" edges toward personal opinion rather than verifiable fact, but Nifong's actions were part of his job.
Next week, we'll be providing a written summary of the important factual findings and some of the specific contradictions that have led us to the conclusion that no attack occurred.
This conclusion steps over the very same line as Nifong is accused of stepping over. Likely for the same reason. Cooper doesn't call the alleged victim a lying 'ho, but many people are using these words as proof that she is just that. Just like Nifong, Cooper is trying to appease the public that he is doing his job and has come to the correct conclusion about this case.
The public wants absolute certainty not reasonable cause or reasonable doubt and they don't want to wait for a trial to get what they want. They want to know who the villians are ASAP. Nifong offered it last year and Cooper is offering it this year.
While acknowledging that there are inconsistencies in real rape cases, the inconsistencies in this case are turned into more than reasonable doubt, they are turned into the smoking gun. Not being able to prove that something happened isn't the same thing as proving that it didn't happen. Cooper should have heeded his own words:
There were many points in the case where caution would have served justice better than bravado. And in the rush to condemn, a community and a state lost the ability to see clearly. Regardless of the reasons this case was pushed forward, the result was wrong.
If Nifong was wrong, so too was Cooper. Despite his call for changes to stop this from happening again (the PR nightmare since the system actually worked in the defendants' favor) Cooper is calling for immediate changes to the system.
This feels like grandstanding but of an even greater magnitude than Nifong is accused of. If a case becomes hotly debated and there is a push to stop the prosecution before a trial begins, Cooper wants to make that process easier.
I view that proposal as dangerous to justice and dangerous to the many less than 100% sympathetic crime victims. If a prosecutor pursues an unpopular case or one that makes the state look bad, that prosecutor has to worry that doing so will result in having the case taken away and being given the label of rogue prosecutor.
Once a case is taken away, it is likely dead in the water no matter what the evidence proves.
If there is to be a process to take cases away from aggressive prosecutors then that process must allow for cases to be taken away from passive prosecutors who refuse to pursue criminal charges. Mishandling cases doesn't only work one way.