The Cautionary Tale of the Duke Lacrosse Team Case

©2014 Kenneth N. Margolin

In March 2006, three white upper-class members of the Duke University Lacrosse team, Dave Evans, Collin Finnerty, and Reade Seligman, were charged with rape. Their accuser was Crystal Mangum, a black student at North Carolina Central University, who also hired herself out as a stripper, escort and erotic dancer. Ms. Mangum and another woman, were hired by the men to dance at a party of the house lived in by the captains of the Lacrosse team. The case received immediate national media attention, and fueled incessant commentary about the case. Commentators often used the accusations to highlight perceived problems of campus racism, “white privilege,” sexual harassment, and the over-glorifying of college athletes. The elements of race, class, and sex provided the media, especially the liberal media, with a good versus evil, weak versus strong, entitled versus underprivileged drama. Many columnists and self-proclaimed “victims’ advocates” simply assumed that the men were guilty. As the investigation was in its early stages, 88 Duke University professors, who became known as the “Group of 88,” published a letter in the Duke University student newspaper, using the alleged rape as a platform to highlight what they claimed was rampant racism and sexism on campus. Again, the assumption clearly implicit in the letter, was that the accused men were guilty.

We now know, of course, that there was no rape and that the allegations were false. Inconsistencies in Crystal Mangum’s story began to surface early on. She could not keep her story straight, adding and dropping important details during various police interviews. By this time, however, the case had taken on a life of its own as fodder for far left academics and media personalities, who never questioned the increasingly suspect credibility of Crystal Mangum, and who continued to lambaste the accused Lacrosse players as prime examples of privileged white racist, sexists run amok. The initial prosecutor on the case, Mike Nifong, became an instant media figure. He gave dozens of interviews in which he assured the public that he would aggressively pursue the case. In the early frenzy after the rape accusations, the remainder of the Duke Lacrosse season was cancelled, and team coach, Mike Pressler was pressured into resigning.

As the prosecution’s investigation continued, its case began to fall apart. Mike Nifong came under increasing criticism for his handling of the case. Eventually, North Carolina Attorney General, Roy Cooper, took over the case, and upon a review of the evidence, dismissed all charges against the three players. He called Mike Nifong, a “rogue prosecutor.” Nifong was ultimately disbarred for making prejudicial, unsupported comments to the press, lying to the court, and withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense. The three players sued Nifong and Duke University, and received an undisclosed settlement from Duke, rumored to have been millions of dollars. Very few of the Duke faculty or media commentators who prejudged the Duke lacrosse players as guilty, apologized for their faulty prejudgment. In an odd postscript, Crystal Mangum was convicted in November 2013, of second degree murder for fatally stabbing her boyfriend.

The Duke Lacrosse team case should be reviewed by every college administrator charged with drafting a college code of conduct and disciplinary hearing rules regarding allegations of sexual assault on campus. All of the biases that led so many in academia to reflexively assume that the Duke three were guilty, are prevalent on American college campuses. Politically correct notions that there is a “rape culture,” that “white privilege” still serves to oppress minorities, and that rape allegations being uniformly true, it is more important to protect the rights of the accuser than those of the accused. It is precisely because rape is a such a vile crime, that should lead to harsh consequences for the perpetrator, that great care must be taken to avoid concluding that an innocent accused committed the offense. A college student brought before his school’s disciplinary board, accused of raping a fellow student, should have trial-like procedural protections. He should receive detailed notice of the accusations, should be able to call any desired witnesses, and have the right to cross-examine his accuser. And while a college disciplinary board is not a court, its “guilty” finding can have devastating consequences to the accused, who should therefore have the right to an attorney who can handle the case before the disciplinary board. Very few colleges grant such procedural protections, even though a finding against the accused will likely result in expulsion, with its lifelong negative consequences. As a result of the charged atmosphere on college campuses on the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault, and the inadequate protections granted to the accused, innocent students will inevitably be wrongly found to have committed the horrific crime of rape.