Monday, July 2, 2007

The Nifong standard of Reasonable Doubt

When Nifong went before the North Carolina State Bar's disciplinary hearing, he was not without character witnesses to speak on his behalf. Kendra Montgomery-Blinn, a former assistant district attorney and the director of the newly established North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, spoke highly of her former boss. She said the Nifong "maintained the highest threshold for deciding whether to prosecute a criminal case: He would proceed only if convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the same standard a jury uses to convict." (The News & Observer, June 19, 2007, page 6A)

From comments Nifong made at that hearing, it appears that he still believes beyond a doubt that the 3 Lacrosse players are guilty, in the face of irrefutable DNA evidence to the contrary. The problem is, it required too little evidence to bring Nifong to his original conclusion of guilt, and once that conclusion was formed, no amount of exonerating evidence could convince him he was wrong.

It isn't just DA's who fall prey to this inferior and degraded standard. It is played out every day in various police depatments, as veteran detectives fall prey to the foolish notion that years of experience has produced a sixth sense, a "gut feeling" that is superior to any evidence that could be found in determing who perpetrated a crime. Thus, when their investigation fails to uncover the expected evidence, they rationalize that the criminal was particularly clever, or thought he was, but not clever enough to outsmart this cop!

And it is played out in hundreds of courtrooms, where jurors convene to pass judgment on the State's case, and who come to their duty armed with some basic assumptions:
  • that the police did a thorough investigation and followed all credible leads
  • that more evidence exists that couldn't be presented because of legal technicalities
  • that if any exonerating evidence existed, the defense would present it
  • that State's witnesses are inherently honest and truth-seeking, and thus would never lie or misrepresent evidence

I have no doubt that had Nifong been successful in concealing that DNA evidence, the Duke players would have been tried and convicted.

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