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Duke lacrosse saga involving the three players falsely prosecuted

Updated: April 01, 2011, 16:52

Litigation certainly does move at a glacial pace.

Remember the Duke lacrosse saga involving the three players falsely prosecuted for raping a stripper who said she had been attacked at a lacrosse team party in 2006? The players were later cleared in the wake of disclosures that prosecutors had withheld exonerating evidence.

The players sued former North Carolina prosecutor Mike Nifong and the City of Durham back in 2007, accusing them of conspiracy and of various constitutional violations. Nifong separately was disbarred for his handling of the case.

The players’ suit claimed the criminal investigation was “one of the most chilling episodes of premeditated police, prosecutorial and scientific misconduct in modern American history.”

A mere four years later, federal judge James Beaty Jr. yesterday declined to dismiss the players’ claims that their constitutional rights were violated, Bloomberg reports. The players can now proceed to trial.

The players have asked the court for unspecified damages and for a monitor to be appointed to oversee the Durham police for 10 years, according to Bloomberg.

“The intentional use of false or misleading evidence before a grand jury to obtain an indictment and arrest without probable cause is exactly the type of unreasonable search and seizure that the Fourth Amendment was designed to protect against,” the judge ruled.

In 2006, Nifong conducted almost 100 media interviews in which he said he had “no doubt” the athletes had engaged in a racially motivated rape, according to Bloomberg.  But the director of  a local DNA lab later admitted he and Nifong agreed to withhold evidence that probably would show that the team members did not commit rape.

Nifong, Bloomberg reports, had claimed that he was immune from the suit because he acted in his official capacity as a prosecutor. And the city also claimed it was immune from liability and contended that the suit sought to “impose on Durham taxpayers untold millions of dollars in damages for plaintiffs who were publicly exonerated and never spent a moment in jail.”

But Judge Beaty did dismiss the players’ conspiracy and emotional-distress claims.

James Craven III, counsel to Nifong,  and Reginald Gillespie Jr., who represents the city, did not immediately return calls from the Law Blog for comment.

Courtesy Wall Street Journal

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