Sunday, June 17, 2007

"Duke Lacrosse Prosecutor"

The stacked adjectives in the headlines are bad enough. But despite the fact that three young men have finally been exonerated, once and for all, for despicable acts they didn't commit, there's still plenty of damage to be done by rapacious and over-zealous attorneys.

Prosecutor Mike Nifong admitted wrongdoing and apologized. He's been humiliated and disbarred. A nation given to pondering things might ask questions like these:

  • "How often does this kind of thing happen when the truth never comes to light?"

  • Should prosecutors have as much power as they do to choose what charges should be filed against people? (Should they, for example, be allowed to use outrageous charges to coerce defendants into pleading guilty to lesser crimes?)

  • Would it be possible to change the focus of our judicial system from an adversarial, win-or-lose contest between two sides to one in which the focus is on finding truth and minimizing suffering?

  • Do some people's suffering count more than other people's?

Nifong did a rare thing for an attorney--or for anyone under so much public scrutiny: he admitted he was wrong. But is that enough? Not as long as there's a dollar to be made by other attorneys. Now lawyers for the accused athletes are talking about criminal and, no doubt, civil charges. The spectacle will be played out in the media as long as anyone still has enough sense of outrage or morbid curiosity to tune in.

To what purpose? Will the accused men and their families get back the days they spent worrying or the nights they spent obsessing about what might happen? No. But on the other hand, Mike Nifong will never again get carried away with his own arguments and pull out the stops to convict an innocent defendant. Is there any point to putting him and his family through months and years of what those other families went through?

I think it's time we quit confusing "justice" with "getting even." There's no such thing as getting even. If deliberately harming people achieves nothing but income for attorneys and a sense of satisfaction on the part of those who want revenge, then maybe it's time to question our values.