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New book examines the legal ethics of the Duke lacrosse rape case
by Scott Emerson
The Duke lacrosse rape case was a train wreck of criminal injustice, and for 13 months the public couldn’t look away. The new book Race to Injustice: Lessons Learned from the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case examines this high-profile pile-up between a prestigious university, an alleged rape, an unscrupulous district attorney, and a news industry ravenous for the next big scoop.
In the book, author and editor Michael Seigel, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, assembles legal- and forensic-science experts who join him in dissecting this messy clash between due process and the public’s right to know. The result is 14 unique perspectives on a case rife with false allegations, unethical prosecution tactics and simmering racial tension.
“The Duke lacrosse case was unusual in that it amounted to the ‘perfect storm’ of factors making it of intense interest to the media, public and academics,” Seigel said. “An alleged rape of an individual working in the sex industry makes it even more controversial. Add the fact that the allegations were made by a poor African-American woman against young Caucasian men who — merely by their attendance at Duke University ¯ were individuals of relative privilege, and you have an explosive situation involving race and class.”
Each chapter of Race to Injustice, published by Carolina Academic Press, provides academics and legal minds with an opportunity to evaluate and consider how the justice system could be improved. Chapter one sets the stage by outlining the facts of the case in chronological order.
Subsequent chapters provide readers with analytical cross-sections of the case ranging from the reactions of Duke faculty, town-gown relationships, to DNA-profiling and the presumption of guilt.
“I don’t think it would be fair to say that the contributors disagreed on specific matters; rather, I’d say that each possessed a unique point of view on the important lessons to be learned from the case,” said Seigel.
“Some wanted to use the case to teach about things such as prosecutorial ethics, forensic DNA evidence, proper line-up procedures, and the impact of pre-trial publicity on a defendant’s reputation. Others saw the case as an opportunity to examine the historical mistreatment of black women in Western society, or the treatment of female sex workers in the United States.”
Seigel said he refers to the case when teaching entry-level criminal law courses. He added that in the future, he will use the book to teach the case to second- and third-year law students.
“We designed the book to be an excellent vehicle for teaching ‘capstone’ seminars in law school, pertinent master’s degree programs, or at the upper class undergraduate level,” Seigel said. “Through the book, students already schooled in the basics will be able to study how various forces of the law, procedure, ethics, society and evidence sometimes converge into an explosive real-life situation.”
Race to Injustice draws on Seigel’s experience as a federal organized crime prosecutor, the first assistant United States attorney for the Middle District of Florida and a professor of law. Seigel said his intent in writing the book was to provide insight into one of the most embarrassing episodes in recent legal history.
Nancy King, an expert in criminal procedure and professor of law at Vanderbilt University School of Law says Seigel’s book hits the mark.
“This book is a fascinating expose. The story of this shocking case is an unforgettable reminder of what can go wrong when politics and justice collide,” King said. “It is full of lessons to be learned by anyone interested in prosecutional discretion, sexual assault, campus administration, evidence, media coverage of crime, grand juries, college drinking, race relations or wrongful convictions.”
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