Thursday, September 14, 2006

Fun With Numbers

On Tuesday we posted Durham County Superior Court statistics that revealed more than half of the felony rape and first-degree sex offense charges in Durham County were disposed of by dismissal of the charges filed. In consideration of the outrageous transparency of the Duke Hoax, and the revelation that 13 of 25 rape and first-degree sex offense cases were dismissed last year, we can’t help wondering exactly what it takes for a case to be dismissed in Durham County. Given the statistics that show that cases of this sort are far more likely to be dismissed than brought to trial (52% vs. 8% (the other 40% were pled out)), and given that what we know (by observing the Duke Hoax) is apparently not enough to dismiss a case, it boggles the mind to consider just how much weaker or less meritorious the 13 cases that were dismissed must have been.

To better understand just how weak the 13 dismissed cases must have been, while the Duke Hoax appears to move steadily forward toward trial with the insistence from DA Nifong that he actually has a case, it may be helpful to examine what is not enough for a case to be dismissed. We know that it is not enough for a case to be dismissed in Durham County if:
  • there is no DNA evidence from the suspect(s) found in, on or near the accuser
  • the accuser recants
  • the accuser tells numerous conflicting stories
  • there is no physical evidence
  • the lead investigator neglects (wink, wink) to take notes
  • DNA of another person is found within the accuser
  • the accuser fails to identify suspects until a phony lineup is manufactured
  • the police apparently find the accuser to be so unbelievable that they neglect to even visit the “crime” scene for two days
  • the District Attorney misrepresents the evidence by offering Theories of the Case based only on imagination or the evidence hoped to be ‘developed’
  • (at least) one suspect has an airtight alibi supported by witnesses, electronic evidence and photographs

If none of the above or, more accurately, all of the above is insufficient cause for a case to be dismissed, what exactly was enough for the 13 other cases to be dismissed? We can only come up with three reasonable conclusions of what would make accusations more transparently false, or cases more inherently weak:

  1. The police and prosecution’s misdeeds, misconduct or incompetence were even greater than in the Duke Hoax.
  2. The accused suspects were discovered to have no penises.
  3. The cases would have no effect on the results of the primary election.

We realize that some may argue that the high rate of dismissals in rape and sex offense cases may be due to the nature of the offense, and a victim’s reluctance to testify. Examination of dismissal rates for other categories of crimes, however, appears to belie this supposition as the cause for the high rate of dismissal. In several other categories of crimes, the Durham County dismissal rate experienced by interim DA Nifong’s office is even higher than that for rape and first-degree sex offenses.

Now, the last thing we want to do is ascribe accusations to Mr. Nifong that he does not deserve. We know he has earned plenty of accusations on his own accord and, as much as we enjoy making these well earned accusations daily, we thought it would be fair to examine other counties in North Carolina to discover if it was common for better than half of all rape and sex offense charges to be dismissed.

Our examination revealed that while the dismissal rate experienced by Mr. Nifong’s office, over what hopefully will be the only full fiscal year he served as District Attorney, is not the worst in the state, many other counties in North Carolina had a far lower percentage of rape/sex offense cases disposed by dismissal. Some notable comparisons:

  • Durham County-- 25 Cases Disposed - 13 Dismissals - 52%
  • Randolph County - 13 Cases Disposed - 0 Dismissals - 0%
  • Caldwell County - 8 Cases Disposed - 0 Dismissals - 0%
  • Guilford County - 129 Cases Disposed - 4 Dismissals - 3%
  • Surry County - 24 Cases Disposed - 2 Dismissals - 8%
  • Duplin County - 9 Cases Disposed - 1 Dismissals - 11%
  • Chatham County - 25 Cases Disposed - 3 Dismissals - 12%
  • Rowan County - 24 Cases Disposed - 3 Dismissals - 12.5%
  • Wayne County - 11 Cases Disposed - 2 Dismissals - 18%
  • Cleveland County - 15 Cases Disposed - 3 Dismissals - 20%
  • Forsyth County - 33 Cases Disposed - 8 Dismissals - 24%
  • Alamance County - 20 Cases Disposed - 4 Dismissals - 25%
  • Harnett County - 28 Cases Disposed - 7 Dismissals - 25%
  • Onslow County - 15 Cases Disposed - 4 Dissmissals - 27%
  • New Hanover County - 21 Cases Disposed - 6 Dismissals - 29%
  • Nash County - 27 Cases Disposed - 10 Dismissals - 37%
  • Johnston County - 12 Cases Disposed - 4 Dismissals - 33%
  • Wake County - 100 Cases Disposed - 45 Dismissals - 45%

In fairness, Durham County’s dismissal rate is not that far above the statewide rate (52% to 48%).

In an effort to better understand what evidence or circumstances might lead to the dismissal of charges in a case of this nature, we attempted to research the specifics of the 13 cases that were disposed by dismissal in the year ending June 30, 2006. It appears that while the media is fond of reporting rape charges when the accusations are made, there is very little reporting on the cases that result in dismissal. Although our examination remains incomplete, we have managed to uncover two examples of what it takes in Durham County for charges to be dismissed.

Clerical Error

Durham County's district attorney says a clerical error is to blame for charges against an accused child rapist being dismissed by his office. In February 2004, police arrested and charged Norman Brooks in the alleged molestation and rape of Bobby Parker's young daughter. But in September 2005, the charges against Brooks were dropped and the case was dismissed.

"This is clearly the fault of this office," said Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong.

The case was originally assigned to Assistant District Attorney Tracey Cline, who was also handling another case against Brooks that was considered to be much weaker than the sexual abuse case. The district attorney's office was planning to drop the weaker of the two cases.

"In the course of entering the dismissal, inadvertently the wrong number was placed on the dismissal," Nifong said.

Then, Cline went on medical leave, and Parker was told that his daughter's case would be reassigned to Assistant District Attorney Jan Paul. But when Parker called Paul last week, he said she told him that he was not aware of the case.

"I was like, 'Did you lose the file? Why don't you know anything about the case?' I just couldn't understand," Parker said.

Nifong said Paul had been assigned to many cases, but Parker's daughter's case was not one of them. "Unfortunately, we made a second mistake," Nifong said.

False accusation (Uhm…Hello!!!!)

Source: Herald-Sun, The (Durham, NC) - August 8, 2006 - Crime Log

“A Durham woman was arrested for falsely accusing a man of rape, according to arrest warrants. Nona LaTrece Marshall, of 3004 Ivy Wood Lane, allegedly accused a man of raping her on April 24, warrants said. The accused man was charged with first-degree kidnapping, assault by pointing a gun, assault on a female and first-degree rape, according to warrants. His bond was set at $100,000, warrants said.”

Looking back a little further we were able to find a third example of what it takes for a rape case to be dismissed in Durham County. In fairness, we cannot blame Mr. Nifong for this one. He was merely a traffic court czar when the case was dismissed on July 27, 2000 and not yet appointed as Petty Tyrant.

Police Misconduct (Uhm…Hello!!!!)

"In late October of 1998, Yvonne Walker (“plaintiff”) was attacked and raped. As a result of injuries sustained during the attack, plaintiff went into a coma and was hospitalized for a substantial period of time. During the investigation of the attack, BrucePreiss add space between names (“Preiss”), a police technician for the City of Durham (“Durham”), was instructed to collect and store various pieces of evidence from the original crime scene including, but not limited to, items to be fingerprinted and plaintiff's clothing to be analyzed for the suspect's DNA. After leaving the evidence in the trunk of his car for several months, Preiss, either negligently or intentionally, destroyed the evidence and subsequently submitted false statements concerning its disposition. A man suspected of the attack on plaintiff was arrested and indicted for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill; however, on 27 July 2000, the trial court learned of the destruction of the evidence collected by Preiss and dismissed the pending charges against the suspect."

While we are unable to offer specifics for each of the 13 rape and first-degree sex offense cases that were disposed of by dismissal in the year ending June 30 2006, under the reign of DA Nifong, we do feel safe assuming that DA Nifong’s boast that the defense attorneys feared facing him was an idle one. With a better than 50/50 chance of dismissal as evidenced by the woeful track record of the DA’s office while Nifong has been in charge, it would seem that even the newest member of the bar should have little to fear from Nifong.

7 comments:

J said...

I have 2 comments on that article

1) concerning the dropped case ( I would like for a posting lawyer to address this) I glean from this article that a "clerical error" resulted in these charges being dropped. Clerical errors happen every day. Why could the charges not be reinstated? Then it said the file was LOST? You mean to tell me that that all of the "evidence" in that file was the ORIGINAL and no investigator had their notes or copies? You mean that in the year 2004- the paperwork in this case was not done on a COMPUTER and the file was never SAVED? The HARD DRIVE vanished too? I have great difficulty believeing this.

2)I see the stats from last year. I would like to see the stats from, say, the previous 2 years to see if this is "normal" for Durham or did the process "spike" when Nifong took charge.

LieStoppers said...

J:

Here's one update on the clerical error dropped case:

http://www.wral.com/news/6192536/detail.html

A Durham grand jury on Tuesday indicted an accused child molester, months after the Durham disctrict attorney's office mistakenly dropped charges against him.

Norman Brooks was indicted on eight counts, including statutory rape and taking indecent liberties with a child.

Brooks was originally arrested two years ago, but last fall an assistant district attorney mistakenly dropped the charges against him.

District Attorney Mike Nifong said the mistake would not affect the prosecution of the case.

Will dig for additional updates and for the statistics you request from previous years.

LieStoppers said...

J:

For the year 04/05 under Hardin, Durham's dismissal rate was about half of what it was in 05/06 under Nifong. Would the rate jumping from 25.7% to 52% be considered a spike?

http://www.nccourts.org/Citizens/SRPlanning/Documents/srfy0405.pdf

LieStoppers said...

Here's 03/04 which shows 12 of 20 dismissals.

http://www.nccourts.org/Citizens/SRPlanning/Documents/srfy0304.pdf

We'll do some more number crunching to see what, if anything, three years worth of data for Durham and statewide reveals.

J said...

For the year 04/05 under Hardin, Durham's dismissal rate was about half of what it was in 05/06 under Nifong. Would the rate jumping from 25.7% to 52% be considered a spike?

GUD GAWD

Actually, NO- as an engineer who does a lot of 6 SIGMA work, a 'spike" goes from 10%-30% deviation from the median range ( depending on where the company wants the benchmarks) Going from 25.7 to 52% is over a 100% INCREASE.

Thats not a "spike" thats catastrophic FAILURE. If that were a production line, it would be SHUT DOWN.

Theres no way around this- that cant be an "accident" and there is no way that kind of an increase can be 'explained away" as "human error"- its just not feasibly possible.

I read in some article today ( cant remember where) that Nifong was NOT the Governor's first choice ( I wonder if you can verify that)- IF thats true, then this increase gives me the impression that "someone" WANTED Nifong there.

In any process, where there is this kind of a change- root cause demands to look at whatever changed to see if it was the causal factor. The "proof" is that if you remove the "causal" factor- the problem goes away.I would like to see what happens when Nifong is gone and if those percentages drop to about where they were.

Something is wrong here.

Newport said...

Something is indeed wrong here. What these numbers on rape case dismissals tend to show is that DA Nifong is in charge of an office that files rape charges before conducting a full and proper investigation into the merit of the charges.

Even taking into account the possibility that valid rape claims may be withdrawn by the accuser (effectively rendering the case unprosecutable in many instances) because the victim does not wish to go forward with the case, this does not explain the high number of dismissals.

Sound familiar?

Charging before investigating seems to be how this DA operates. Charge first, excessively if possible, lean on the defendant for a plea. That's how it works.

Anonymous said...

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