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January 23, 2007
Contact: Mark Rosenthal, <>

Duke Lacrosse Fiasco Linked to Get-Tough Domestic Violence Laws

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 / U.S. Newswire / – D.A. Michael Nifong withheld DNA test results that would have helped prove the innocence of three Duke University lacrosse players accused of rape, according to a recent CBS 60 Minutes story. Now, experts are saying Nifong's aggressive prosecution can be traced to domestic violence laws such as the Violence Against Women Act.

VAWA was passed in 1994 to curb sexual assault and domestic violence. While VAWA-funded services have helped many, experts say the law may have gone too far and often violates the civil liberties of innocent citizens.

“Many people think of the Violence Against Women Act in terms of stopping partner assault,” notes Lisa Scott, family law attorney. “But VAWA has also reworked state laws that govern rape and sexual assault so due process protections are short-circuited.” Scott heads the Washington-state legal reform group, Taking Action Against Bias in the System.

For years, advocates have been trying to “reverse the presumption of innocence,” according to a Cato Institute report by Michael Weiss and Cathy Young. Weiss is a law professor at the University of Houston; Young is a columnist for the Boston Globe.

Experts say bias exists at every stage of the process.

When a complaint is made, probable cause protections may not be in effect. “Arrest everyone and let the prosecutors sort 'em out is a fair summary of the police policy,” write attorneys James Shalley and Don Murray of New York City.

Even if the accuser later decides to drop the charges, many jurisdictions have adopted so-called “no-drop” policies that require the prosecutor to pursue the case.

When the case goes to trial, “evidentiary standards for proving abuse have been so relaxed that any man who stands accused is considered guilty,”1 according to constitutional law expert Cheryl Hanna of the Vermont Law School.

In some states, advocacy groups are pushing for laws that would ban polygraph (lie-detector) tests for women who make a rape charge. That change would make it more difficult for a person who is falsely-accused to be exonerated.

Fox News columnist Wendy McElroy has looked at rape allegations made against public figures such as Crossfire co-host Tucker Carlson, and concluded that “false rape charges hurt real victims.”


1 Clarification of 1/26/2007: As published in William and Mary Law Review, Vol. 39, 1998, page 1516, "The Paradox of Hope: The Crime and Punishment of Domestic Violence", Cheryl Hanna

R.A.D.A.R. – Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting – is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of men and women working to improve the effectiveness of our nation's approach to solving domestic violence. http://mediaradar.org.

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