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Mike Nifong and the Duke Lacrosse Players

There have recently been a couple of updates in the ongoing saga of the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case that are worth mentioning.

Some background: in 2006 a female escort named Crystal Gail Magnum accused three Duke University lacrosse players of raping her at a house party. The case stirred up a hornets' nest of racial tension all over the country as the facts became more and more muddled. Eventually it came to light that Mike Nifong, the prosecuting attorney in the case, was acting as a so-called "rogue prosecutor" who was more concerned with making a high-profile conviction than with actually dispensing justice. Specifically, he was using intimidation tactics to get his own version of the truth out of people while withholding and concealing potentially exculpatory evidence. Nifong removed himself from the case, was disbarred, and then convicted of contempt of the court, for which he served one day in jail When all was said and done, the Duke lacrosse players were exonerated and no charges were filed against Magnum, as Nifong had taken most of the blame for the wrongful prosecution.

In 2007 the affected players sued both Mike Nifong and the city of Durham for, among many other things, depriving them of their constitutional rights as citizens. Nifong and the city both attempted to get the case dismissed on the grounds that the Durham police department was only doing its job in trying to get potential criminals convicted. It is a complicated matter. Due to the the adversarial nature of our justice system, prosecutors must be expected to do their most in going after the indicted, since they can be sure that the defending lawyers will be trying their hardest to thwart them. But where exactly can the line be drawn between pursuing a conviction for justice and pursuing a conviction for personal gain?

And when that line is crossed, the matter of liability is hard to pin down as well. In this case, each defendant is trying to shift the blame to another. Nifong himself is immune in his role as prosecutor, but some of the actions he took, a ruling this March has said, go above and beyond that role. For instance, the suit alleges that Nifong told his campaign manager that the case would provide him with millions of dollars in free publicity. The legal considerations in this case are so complicated, that it took four years for a judge to even decide which charges to dismiss and which to keep. U.S. District Judge James A. Beaty Jr. decided in a ruling on March 31 that certain parts of the civil suit could move forward. But he dismissed others of the Duke students' claims, such as that of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The case will proceed as Evans v. Durham, 07-00739, U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina (Durham).

Another strange twist has been that Magnum, the escort who has initially accused the players, has recently been indicted on murder charges for fatally stabbing her boyfriend.

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