I recently read Until Proven Innocent, Stuart Taylor’s and KC Johnson’s riveting and damning account of the Duke lacrosse case, but haven’t found time to give the book the treatment it deserves. I am pleased to see that the always-incisive Abigail Thernstrom has an excellent review of the book in today’s Wall Street Journal. An excerpt:
There was plenty of wrongdoing, of course, but it had very little to do with Duke’s lacrosse players. It was perpetrated instead by a rogue district attorney determined to win re-election in a racially divided, town-gown city; ideologically driven reporters and their pseudo-expert sources; censorious faculty members driven by the imperatives of political correctness; a craven university president; and black community leaders seemingly ready to believe any charge of black victimization.
The list of knaves in this scandal is long indeed. District Attorney Mike Nifong’s misconduct is beyond belief and in many respects ought to be (if it isn’t already) criminal. If Crystal Mangum, the false complainant, was mentally competent—and that’s a big if—she also of course should bear primary blame. Other scoundrels in the authoritative Taylor/Johnson chronicle range from Durham police sergeant Mark Gottlieb to Tara Levicy, a feminist ideologue who doubled as a sexual assault nurse examiner, to media figures like (surprise!) the New York Times and CNN’s Nancy Grace, to Duke president Richard Brodhead and Duke’s faculty Group of 88. (This is only a partial list.)
Fortunately, there are some heroes as well. They include the many members of the criminal-defense team, Duke law professor James E. Coleman, Jr., taxi driver (and Sudanese immigrant) Moezeldin Elmostafa, the members of the Duke lacrosse team who displayed remarkable grace and courage, and, although Taylor and Johnson don’t call attention to it, Taylor and Johnson themselves. (I’m sure that I’m neglecting others who also deserve mention.)
It might be tempting to regard the Duke fiasco as just another demonstration of the remarkable folly of leftist institutions. But Taylor and Johnson also draw important lessons for law-and-order conservatives. Beyond documenting what “may well be the most egregious abuse of prosecutorial power ever to unfold in plain view,” they call attention to less visible cases of prosecutorial abuse against more powerless defendants, and they propose reforms designed to minimize the prospects that anyone will suffer from such abuse. Some of these reforms—for example, requiring more reliable eyewitness-identification procedures and tape-recording of interrogations—seem simple. Others, such as making the grand jury a real check on prosecutors, may be more complicated. But it’s well past time for legislators to give serious attention to such reforms.