After Duke Case, States Review Prosecutorial Powers


The misguided rape case that canceled Duke University’s lacrosse season, caused a national uproar, and sent a disgraced district attorney to jail for a day is causing states to ponder the troubling question of whether prosecutors have too much power, reports the Christian Science Monitor. In New York, a legislative committee has held hearings on whether prosecutors need more oversight. In California bill, await Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature that would study or reform how police and prosecutors handle eyewitness identifications, the interrogation of suspects accused of serious crimes, and the use of jailhouse informants.

Some observers see a potential sea change in U.S. attitudes over prosecutorial power. “If you look at how American politics has developed in the last 20 years, there’s a consistent pattern of getting tough on crime, reducing civil liberties, and giving more power to prosecutors,” says Robert “KC” Johnson, a Brooklyn College professor who covered the Duke case in a daily blog. “This is really the first high profile event [] where there’s been a very strong push by most people, regardless of ideology, in the other direction.” Under a $30 million settlement proposed by the three ex-Duke players, the city of Durham would have to urge that the state create ombudsman positions to hear misconduct complaints about district attorneys, and other criminal-justice reforms, including mandatory videotaping of police lineups and recording of grand-jury proceedings. The problem for most people is accountability, or lack of it, says Bennett Gershman, a professor at Pace Law School. “This is the way the wind is blowing; it’s blowing toward reform.”


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