Monday, March 12, 2007

Nifong, the Glitch in the System

In a recent article, the News & Observer praised the efficiency of the Durham County District Attorney’s office by citing misleading statistics to support the notion that there was a reduction in the backlog of pending cases while the office operated under the cloud of disrepute brought upon it by District Attorney Mike Nifong‘s hijacking of the Hoax.

“While many people in Durham and the nation talked about the Duke University lacrosse case and what will become of District Attorney Mike Nifong, Durham's assistant prosecutors have been plowing quietly through tens of thousands of cases.

“For nearly a year, Nifong has been under siege by reporters, bloggers and county residents who question his actions in the sexual assault investigation that grew out of a lacrosse team party last March. In December and January, the State Bar, which regulates lawyers, filed ethics charges against Nifong.

“In the world outside the courthouse, Duke lacrosse often seems to be the only pending case in all of Durham. Inside the building, the case is one of more than 40,000 filed each year.

“In the fiscal year ending June 2006, the Durham District Attorney's Office tried, pleaded, dismissed or otherwise resolved 43,904 felonies, misdemeanors and traffic tickets, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts. The number of disposed cases was 2,200 greater than the number of new cases filed.”

“Nifong said in an interview that when he was appointed to the office in April 2005, 2,692 felonies were pending in Durham. As of Jan. 5, 2,134 felonies were pending.”

Curiously, the Administrative Office of the Court’s annual “Summary of North Carolina Trial Court Caseload” indicates that as of June 30, 2006 there were 1,872 felonies pending in Durham. If the N&O’s January 5, 2007 count of 2,134 felonies pending is accurate, the backlog of felony cases pending in Durham actually rose over the last seven months of Nifong’s term as hijacker of the Hoax despite having fallen (if Nifong’s April 2005 total is accurate) substantially in his first year as District Attorney.
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The News & Observer also fails to note that nearly half of all the cases disposed by the Durham County District Attorney’s office in the fiscal year ending June 2006 (not including traffic tickets for which no breakdown is available) were done so by dismissal. One might assume that dismissing cases at a rate higher (much higher, 44% to 35%, for matters in Superior Court and notably higher, 44% to 40%, for District Court cases) than the statewide average would be a means of reducing the backlog that should cause concern rather than the applause the N&O appears to offer.
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While the overall high dismissal rate is alarming, the Snooze Room’s Brianne Dopart points to the District Attorney’s abysmal failure to secure rape convictions as further indication of a dysfunctional DA’s office. Despite there being 162 rapes reported in 2005 and 2006, the District Attorney’s office managed, incredibly, to obtain only one rape conviction in 2006. It is unclear how many of the 162 cases were deemed to be false accusations, saw no charges brought for other reasons, were plead down to lesser charges, remain pending, or were prosecuted unsuccessfully. Despite that uncertainty, the fact that a year which saw 100 rapes reported also saw only one rape conviction is astounding.
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“Each year, Durham police and workers at Durham's Crisis Response Center handle scores of reported rapes.

“In 2005, police took 61 rape reports. The Crisis Response Center helped 109 people who said they were victims of a recent rape or sexual assault.

“In 2006, police got 100 rape reports, and the Crisis Response Center provided services to 102 people. Eleven were gang rapes, said Aurelia Sands Bell, the center's executive director.

“Patrick Tamer of the state Administrative Office of the Courts in Raleigh said one person was convicted of rape in Durham in 2006.”

This astounding revelation offers further demonstration of the inability or unwillingness of Nifong’s office to successfully prosecute genuine rape charges while overzealously persecuting the victims of the Hoax. It also reinforces the impression of ineptitude and indifference to justice created by Nifong's hijacking of the hoax, and the Durham Police Department's apparent compliance with his direction. As disturbing as Dopart’s revelation is, the District Attorney’s office apparent attempt to not disclose that there was only one rape conviction in all of Durham County last year is equally concerning.
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Dopart adds:

“The Herald-Sun asked the District Attorney's Office for a list of rape charges that resulted in convictions.

“Candy Clarke, an assistant in the office, said there is no way to link the incident numbers the police assign to charges to the case numbers the DA's Office uses.

“Clarke called it "a glitch" in the system.

“Tracey Cline, who prosecutes the county's sex-crime cases, didn't return several phone calls seeking comment.”

Although the list requested consisted of a singular case, Ms. Clark pretends that a glitch in the system is to blame for the District Attorney's office being unwilling to acknowledge that only one conviction was obtained. While Ms. Clark’s excuse for withholding the information requested by the Snooze Room does not appear to have merit, she may indeed be correct that there is a glitch in the Durham County justice system. That glitch has a name: Nifong.

10 comments:

bill anderson said...

One reason that the DA's office has such an abysmal record on rape convictions this past year is because it threw so many resources into the Duke case. While this has cost money for the defendants and their families, there is a hefty price tag for the prosecution as well, and this pulls resources away from investigation and prosecution of real crimes.

The Little Rascals case -- which also was a hoax -- was the most expensive case in NC history. Will the Duke Hoax surpass it? Why does the State of North Carolina throw so many resources into pursuing hoaxes?

Anonymous said...

The 'hefty price tag' cited above may be the LEAST of the expense for Durham's residents. WHEN Nifong is disbarred (and with his irrational and self-contradictory 'defense' little other outcome seems likely) this will put in doubt every other case the man has been involved with. Defense lawyers will be appealing right and left. How do we know he didn't conceal exculpatory evidence? How do we know he didn't conspire with the Durham PD or the lab to withold evidence? How do we know that Nifong didn't use due diligence in pursuing other suspects?
Nifong's irrational actions on this one case place in peril every conviction he has ever obtained. And Durham will either have to defend these cases all over again, or let them win their appeals. The cost will be enormous in both resource and human terms. And that's even before the civil suits start coming in.

The accuser most certainly got screwed in this deal...not by the accused, but by the DA. But she had a lot of company...all of Durham.

Anonymous said...


In 2006, police got 100 rape reports, and the Crisis Response Center provided services to 102 people. Eleven were gang rapes, said Aurelia Sands Bell, the center's executive director.


Perhaps the rest were false rape claims.

Oh, by the way, what was the race of the alleged perps in those eleven gang rapes? Perhaps I don't even need to ask.

Anonymous said...

I just read this on John in Carolina's comments ( 3/12/07 Addison post)
Anonymous said...
More Duke involvement.

While searching Yahoo groups for other CrimeStoppers mentions, I found this post, from Susan Kauffman, Director of Special Projects in Duke's Public Affairs and Government Relations Office.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pac3/message/1836

Titled "Message from Duke", Ms. Kauffman, as a representative of Duke, is promoting the pot-banging rally in front of 610 N Buchanan!


Folks, just learned that there is a rally scheduled for 2 p.m. today
outside 610 N. Buchanan. African-American ministers are organizing it.
Buses will be bringing students from NCCU. Duke and Durham police will be
in attendance.

I apologize for the late notice. Duke Student Affairs and Duke Police were
notified yesterday afternoon and asked me to alert listserves, but I hadn't
looked at my email since yesterday morning.
SK

MacD

Anonymous said...

Here is the real story - reporters and editors for N&O continue to believe their reading population is ignorant or incapable of critical thinking.

I am just amazed, that a rather well educated demographic is not insulted by the arrogance and mendacity of N&O.

Anonymous said...

Here is the real story - reporters and editors for N&O continue to believe their reading population is ignorant or incapable of critical thinking.

I am just amazed, that a rather well educated demographic is not insulted by the arrogance and mendacity of N&O.

Anonymous said...

Here is the real story - reporters and editors for N&O continue to believe their reading population is ignorant or incapable of critical thinking.

I am just amazed, that a rather well educated demographic is not insulted by the arrogance and mendacity of N&O.

Guy Fox said...

If I were in Durham, I would join the potbangers wearing a sheep costume and bleating, and holding a sign saying "I'm with stupid!" Or not... At any rate, I'd be there mocking the potbangers.

Anonymous said...

There generally is no political constituency for providing adequate resources to the judicial system. When you couple this with the fact that many judges take the job because it beats working, it is easy to understand why there may be a "glitch" in the system. Nifong is bad, but he is not the cause of all the dysfunction in the Durham County (and State of North Carolina) judicial system. Focusing too much on Nifong lets everyone else off the hook--Buddy

Guy Fox said...

Good point, Buddy. After all, Nifong and his ilk had to have enablers, and the fault with that lies with the government of the state of North Carolina, and their people for abdicating their responsibility to act as guardians of their own liberty. As much as I REALLY hate Metallica (see their role in yet another travesty, the RIAA lawsuits), they were right when they sang "When you point your finger, and it comes back to you..." Just a thought.