The Cost of the Lie: Duke, the Courts, and Hoaxes

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I recently received an email from someone who was a member of last year’s lacrosse team at Duke University, a young man who has had to watch the travesty suck three of his teammates and friends into North Carolina’s maw of injustice. What he said in the email made my jaw drop, and this is a case which has hardened my jaw line more than any other.

His email said that so far, the estimated cost of defense to the three families is exceeding five million dollars. That is correct. Three families are having to shell out five million dollars in total to deal with the lies perpetuated by the State of North Carolina.

No doubt, many readers will not care at all. Two of the three families are wealthy, and the other is well-off, although the third family is having some difficulty paying the legal bills, from what I hear. I already have heard a number of black commentators and assorted leftists declaring that they see nothing wrong in having to force wealthy whites to pay millions of dollars to protect their sons against wrongful prosecutions.

Yes, I am glad that the families have had the resources to pay for the excellent legal representation that they have received, but that does not mean that what the State of North Carolina is doing is justified. Furthermore, I would argue that the state is paying millions of dollars in order to promote this particular hoax, and it would be quite interesting to see, when this case finally is dismissed, just what the total legal costs have been.

There are other costs as well. I have argued elsewhere that the outright lies and fraud have been exposed only because of the rise of the blogosphere. Professor K.C. Johnson of Brooklyn College has exposed official lie after official lie in his Durham-in-Wonderland blog, while other bloggers, such as the crews at Liestoppers, Crystal Mess, John-in-Carolina, La Shawn Barber, Michael Gaynor, Friends of Duke University, and Johnsville News. (I have been in personal touch with all of the bloggers except for Johnsville News, and I have no idea of who the mystery man is with that blog, although he has posted my articles, and for that I am grateful.)

Each of these blogs is operated by individuals who are not mainstream journalists, but rather people who have other jobs. Johnson, as pointed out, is a history professor with a full-time teaching load. Gaynor is an attorney, as are the people who run Friends and Crystal Mess. The Liestoppers crew consists of many people with full-time jobs elsewhere, but who have become so outraged by the crimes being committed by the State of North Carolina that they have jumped into the fray.

While he is working on a book (with Stuart Taylor of the National Journal) that I hope will make him millions of dollars, Johnson has had to put many of his other projects on hold. At least one blogger is having to face the reality that his own business is suffering greatly because of the work he has thrown into this project. Others in the blogosphere are having to re-work their work and family lives because of what they are doing.

When one begins to add the numbers of lost productivity and the giving up of other activities, it is not hard to see many more lost millions of dollars. Yes, people have voluntarily given up that money and absorbed those costs, but nonetheless they could have been spent elsewhere, which means there are others who are losing money that would have been spent on their endeavors.

In the mid-1990s, the costliest case in North Carolina history, the Little Rascals case, was also a hoax. Like the Duke Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault case, the entire case was a lie. There was not one real incident of child molestation, but the State of North Carolina chose to promote the lie and real people spent many years in prison before the appellate courts finally did what others should have done and overturned the convictions.

(Two other people, after serving many years in prison because they could not pay the $1 million bond, pleaded nolo contendere while maintaining their innocence simply because they lost all confidence in the State of North Carolina to do what was right. To put it another way, they agreed to submit to more prison time — another year — because they knew that the deck was stacked against them. I suppose that is what people mean when they declare "the system works." Yes, it "works" in the promotion of state power, period.)

However, some people might say that because the original prosecutor in the Duke case, Michael B. Nifong, has turned it over to the state attorney general’s office, that this somehow gives a measure of justice to this fiasco. Nothing could be more untrue. While Nifong no longer is directing this pack of lies, all that means is that another prosecutor — James Coman — is the new enabler of the Big Lie. Even if Coman chooses not to take this thing to trial — the only honest choice he faces — he still has his name on a series of false charges.

Moreover, once he inevitably drops the case (as to bring it to trial would be to knowingly suborn perjury and could create some legal and ethical problems for him — although law and ethics are foreign terms to prosecutors), he will say something like, "We don’t have enough evidence to gain a conviction." He will not say, "These charges were a criminal fraud in themselves, and the State of North Carolina apologizes to the defendants, their families, and all who were affected by this hoax." No, the state never engages in hoaxes. Just ask the Little Rascals defendants, whose lives were ruined by the Lies of the State of North Carolina.

The question one asks is this: Why does the State of North Carolina continue to impose huge costs on everyone when we know this case is a fraud? The simplest answer is this: They do it because they can do it. Furthermore, they do it because the benefits to those who promote hoaxes far outweigh any costs that generally are imposed upon them.

One of the unusual things about this case is that the original prosecutor, Michael B. Nifong, faces charges from the North Carolina Bar Association. It is very unusual that prosecutors ever face any kinds of charges, let alone facing dangers that might result in their disbarment. A reason for Nifong’s confidence as he broke the law and lied to judges and others is that the prosecutors in the infamous Alan Gell case, who withheld exculpatory evidence that resulted in a death sentence (not carried out) against Gell were only reprimanded. In other words, as one attorney put it, David Hoke and Debra Graves received a slap on the wrist for what some might call attempted murder. (That is, using the state to impose, what columnist Barry Sanders calls, the "state-sponsored dirt nap," for someone who did not commit murder.)

Given that Nifong’s open statements about guilt, his questionable and dishonest tactics, and his public lies were the main reason that he won the Durham County elections to his present office, one can say that his tactics might have been worth it. He faces some legal fees for his own representation before the bar, but they are minimal to the $5 million that the families of Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and David Evans have shelled out.

In other words, the present setup in the criminal "justice" (sic) system is one in which prosecutors can impose huge costs on other people and upon taxpayers, but rarely face any costs themselves. Nifong is a huge exception, but I still have doubts that the North Carolina Bar Association will do anything more than reprimand him, which will permit him to keep his job and to pursue other wrongful convictions.

Ultimately, the State of North Carolina can do this because it falls into the category of what Murray Rothbard once called an "armed gang." Those employed by the "justice" (sic) system of North Carolina are free to rampage, impose unjustified costs on others, kill people, and ruin lives without the threat of any sanctions, and if anyone tries to stop him by force, that person can be kidnapped and even killed.

I still predict that the remaining charges against the young men will be dropped, but in the meantime, we still see the state authorities behaving as we would expect members of a violent, criminal gang to act. They do what they want, they strut about like owners and overseers of a plantation, and they expect the rest of us to bow down to them. These are people who impose huge costs upon others and receive nothing but benefits to themselves. As long as that kind of arrangement remains in place, expect the Michael B. Nifongs of the "justice" (sic) system to go on plundering and pillaging, all in the name of the law.

What began as a lie in a medical facility told so that a woman would not be involuntarily committed to a detox center ultimately blew up into the Duke Non-Rape, Non-Kidnapping, and Non-Sexual Assault case. The consequences have been horrendous, for the young men, their families, their friends, Duke University, and for justice itself. But we always must remember that in the world of private markets and exchange — that world detested by the faux academics at Duke University who helped enable Nifong — a lie cannot go very far.

The reason that this lie has done so much damage is not so much the lie itself, but rather that the state could take it and spin it and manufacture a bogus criminal case from it. And only the government ultimately benefited from that lie; everyone else bore the costs.

January 23, 2007

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], teaches economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

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