A Different World

Duke lacrosse case highlighted inequities in the criminal justice system

Published Oct. 25, 2006 in The Sun News

After reading well-researched articles on the Duke lacrosse team rape scandal in the Raleigh News and & Observer, the New York Times and plenty of online outlets, and after watching the ``60 Minutes'' segment on the issue, I question whether an impartial jury will have enough evidence to render a guilty verdict.

If the prosecutor doesn't have any bombshells, this sad story must be put behind us. You can come to your own conclusion.

But don't let the hype blind you to the importance of this case, because it is a lot like the O.J. Simpson trial for what it reveals about our criminal justice system.

While money and privilege shouldn't give people license to unfairly prosecute you, they often are the only things that buffer defendants against unfair prosecution.

The defendants in this case are from the privileged class. They are getting top-notch legal counsel and invaluable public relations guidance.

A Socastee man charged with homicide by child abuse, Wesley Smith, sits in a jail cell more than two and a half years after he was charged. No trial date has been set and his family has said he underwent hours of interrogations without a lawyer.

I don't know if he's guilty or innocent, and I know certain cases are slowed for a variety of reasons. I also know he isn't as fortunate as former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling, who is free pending appeals even though Monday he was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

The Kynande Bennett case, which involved a 4-year-old Conway girl whose mother was convicted of aiding and abetting in homicide by child abuse and sentenced to 20 years, dragged along for several months with no movement. Bennett was reported missing Sept. 29, 2002. That case didn't make it to court until February of this year.

During the trial, the police said they interrogated Bennett's mother for several hours late one night without a lawyer present. What they got that night - she supposedly nodded in the affirmative when asked if she killed her daughter - was among the strongest evidence against her. But the jury wasn't allowed to decide for themselves if it really was a nod or a nervous tick, as her lawyer said, because it wasn't video recorded.

Had she been a part of the privileged, like the Duke defendants, O.J. or Skilling, that likely would not have happened.

The Duke players deserve our sympathy if they were falsely accused. But our focus should remain on ridding our justice system of blatantly obvious inequities.