It may be true that justice delayed is justice denied. But it is also true that justice needs careful deliberation. When people who work for the justice system become too hasty in their filing of cases or handing of judgments, grave mistakes can be made, mistakes which have far-reaching effects and can destroy lives. Such is the case with the Duke lacrosse players who were hastily accused of and charged with sexual assault. The case made headlines and riveted society. In March 2006, a woman filed a report of sexual assault against three Duke lacrosse players.
According to her testimony, she was hired to dance at a party held by the Duke lacrosse team where she was subsequently raped. With the case being lead by an enthusiastic prosecutor, Michael B. Nifong, three Duke lacrosse players were indicted three months after the initial complaint. The case played out in the media, as issues of race, class, and sex were raised to fan righteous indignation from all sides. The accuser was a poor black woman, and the accused were rich, white young men, who think they can get away with anything.
Naturally, the public sympathized and supported the victim, and were only keen on teaching the “spoiled” kids a lesson. (Anderson, 2007) It was a classic case that would have made any lawyer famous. For Nifong, it was an opportunity to promote himself to the public and gain more votes in his favor as he leverages the case to advance his political ambitions. However, plain rhetoric and emotions are not enough to win a case. As it turns out, there were many loopholes in the testimony of the accuser, as well as in the investigation that was conducted.
A year and three months later, the tides have been turned, with Nifong as the main villain. The case against the three lacrosse players has been dismissed due to lack of merit, and Nifong lost his post amid widespread public clamor that he step down as district attorney. Clearly the Duke case is a classic example of the abuses that the criminal justice system are prone to. In the wrong hands, innocent people can suffer, and they need not be found guilty for their lives to be destroyed. Many perceive the case as the result of the manipulations of an ambitious Nifong.
Result of an investigation on Nifong showed that he withheld crucial DNA evidence, and made other misleading tactics to keep the case going. Eventually, Nifong was suspended and disbarred for his unlawful and disgraceful acts. Indeed, justice has been served in this case, the tragedy is that the lives of the three accused have been irrevocably damaged, And while justice is an explicit responsibility of the court, (Chiu, 2006) there is no escaping the harsh realities of a oftentimes cruel society.
The courts may have found the accused innocent, but the damage has been done, and an indelible stain has been stamped on their characters. And the media has been the key player in this regard. There is no more powerful tool in shaping shaping public opinion, and by extension, public action as well (Eden, 1986). Depending on the media coverage, a story can galvanize a society into action and initiate change. Touching the viewer’s emotions and imagination, a short film or news copy can provoke host of emotive responses and powerful impressions.
(Petrocelli, 1998) Indeed, people are more likely to be influenced by the media than they would have been reading legal texts or listening to judicial rhetoric. Another important note, because society treat TV, film, and print as a source of entertainment, and not something didactic, a law case presented this way is thus able to exert its socio-legal influences unconsciously, and therefore, are embraced uncritically by the viewers. This adds to the power of the media when it comes to advancing the cause of law and justice.
(Gest, 1982) Indeed, media affects people’s perception of the law, which in turn affects the entire justice system. While in the conventional process of law, courts weigh the evidence, determine facts, and then “apply law to those facts to generate outcomes,” the law does not exist in a vacuum and is highly responsive to culture. (Villanueva, 2003) And this is where the three accused should focus on. The law has already declared them as innocent, but they will have to prove themselves in the harsh glare of the media’s prying eyes.
They will have to suffer being watched, while the public scrutinizes their every move. Ultimately, the final battle of this case will be fought in the media stage. In so far as Nifong is concerned, it is a testament to the criminal justice system that it is willing to persecute one of its own when they have clearly done something wrong. I believe that this development will compel persecutors to be more careful and deliberate in pressing charges. And this can only be better for society in general.
Indeed justice delayed is not always justice denied. In most case, it can take long because that is the only way to ensure that a thorough investigation is being made for the benefit of all parties concerned. References Anderson, William L. (2007) What the Duke Non-Rape (and Non-Kidnapping/Sexual Assault) Case Taught Me in 2006. Retrieved on October 4, 2007 at http://www. lewrockwell. com/anderson/anderson162. Chiu, Elaine. Culture as Justification, Not Excuse.
The American Criminal Law Review. Chicago: Oct. 2006-10. Vol. 43:4. p. 1317. Dolin, K. ‘Fiction and the Law: Legal Discourse in Victorian and Modernist Literature’ Cambridge University Press: 1999. Eden, Kathy. Poetic and Legal Fiction in the Aristotelian Tradition. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986. Gest, John Marshall. The Lawyer in Literature. Intro. John H. Wigmore. Boston: Boston Book, 1913. Rpt. Holmes Beach, FL: Gaunt, 1982. Petrocelli, Daniel, with Peter Knobler. Triumph of Justice: The Final Judgment on the Simpson Saga. New York: Crown, 1998. Villanueva, E. ‘Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy’ Blackwell Publishing: 2003.