Must be nice…

21 09 2006

Must be nice to be able to hire lawyers who can pay people to call around and make a jury pool reflect on reasonable doubt before a trial even begins. I wonder what would happen if most criminal defendants had access to that kind of service?

Check out the newspaper article below from the Herald Sun which describes how the lacrosse defense team has paid a research firm in based in Tokyo to call at least 300 Durham residents with an hour’s worth of questions regarding how they feel about the prosecutorial handling of the case.

While I find it underhanded and sleazy, the reasoning for their actions seems obvious. They claim that the jury pool has been tainted by Mike Nifong’s early statements on the case, and so conduct a “survey” to supposedly assess the public sentiment. If in the process they taint the jury pool themselves, they either get to reap the benefits of their work with a jury pool that has now months to ruminate about the reasonable doubt they’ve developed before even hearing the facts or evidence presented in case, OR they benefit from being able to move the trial out of Durham (which is what they’ve wanted all along anyway really).

Which brings me back to how nice it must be to have such resources at your disposal. Meanwhile, public defenders are deemed to have given indigent defendents sufficient counsel when they meet their clients for the first time at trial, sleep through trial (yes, there have been appeals rejected when public defendants have slept through court proceedings – it is very very difficult to prove inadequate counsel), or just basically go through the motions in court. But, justice is blind right?

Lacrosse defense survey questioned

BY WILLIAM F. WEST, The Herald-Sun
September 20, 2006 11:20 pm

DURHAM — The prosecution is dialing up a new issue in the Duke lacrosse rape case.

Specifically, District Attorney Mike Nifong is questioning a survey — admittedly approved by lacrosse rape suspects’ defense attorneys — which he said, if allowed to go unchecked, might wind up tainting the prospective jury pool for the case.

Nifong filed a motion in Superior Court Wednesday asking for a copy of the questions posed in the since-terminated defense survey to an estimated 300 people locally. Nifong’s motion also sought to determine the specific involvement of defense attorneys in the survey.

Nifong declined comment when contacted by The Herald-Sun late Wednesday afternoon.

In his motion, Nifong attached a sworn statement from his wife, Cy Gurney, who told of engaging in a one-hour call last week with a woman from the polling company, Central Research Services Inc. The pollster said she was calling from New York.

Internet listings show Central Research Services to be an established market research company more than a half-century old and based in Tokyo.

Gurney stated her overall impression was “that the purpose of the survey was not to assess community attitudes about this case, but rather to bias or influence potential jurors toward a pro-defendant/anti-prosecution point of view.”

Such a survey method, commonly known as “push polling,” is considered a means of subtly influencing participants to adhere to a desired opinion under the guise of being asked an unbiased, non-leading question.

The Herald-Sun obtained a copy of the defense response to Nifong’s motion, which the defense promised to file in Superior Court this morning.

In it, the defense says it gave its approval for the survey, “as is their legal right and duty to protect the defendants’ right to a fair trial before an impartial jury” as specified by the U.S. Constitution and North Carolina law.

“That impartiality could have been substantially threatened by extensive prejudicial comments” made by Nifong, the defense argues.

Nifong early in the case freely gave numerous interviews to regional and national news reporters and referred to some of the Duke lacrosse players as “hooligans.”

The defense argues the survey was necessary to “determine the extent and nature of that prejudice and other issues related to the defendants’ jury trial rights.”

The polling, they said, was scientifically conducted.

Duke 2005-2006 lacrosse players David Evans, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann are accused of rape, kidnapping and sexual offense in connection with allegations surrounding events at a lacrosse team party March 13 at a house at 610 N. Buchanan Blvd., next to Duke’s East Campus.

The accuser, a black woman who was hired to perform as a stripper, claims she was attacked in a bathroom at the house. Evans, Finnerty and Seligmann — each of whom is white — maintain their innocence.

The defense attorneys, in court papers filed late last month and earlier this week, also contend Nifong hasn’t provided several pieces of vital evidence in the case, as required by law.

Nifong on Wednesday served the defense with papers saying Gurney received a call from the woman with Central Research on the evening of Sept. 11.

“She seemed more interested in telling a story than in getting my answers, as some of the questions were very long and tailored to a specific point of view,” Gurney said. “She also did not appear to be recording my answers … I did not hear any computer or keyboard sounds.”

Gurney said at one point she did tell the woman about the importance of getting all the facts, that “we’ve only heard one side of the case” and that such bias was obvious in the questioning.

Gurney said the woman replied, “I’ve heard a lot of that same sentiment.”

Gurney said it was unusual for a purported researcher to comment about the responses of others who have been surveyed.

According to Gurney, the first question was along the lines of:

“If the prosecutor in a community took a sensational case right before a primary/election, do you think such a case would be handled for political gain?”

Gurney said after being asked a set of questions, she told the woman of her husband’s connection to the case and that the woman responded, “Oh, well then ….”

Gurney said she asked the woman to continue and she did — with more questions.

They included:

“Do you think a rape occurred?”

“If a woman is hired as a stripper and she said she was raped, how likely are you to believe her?”

“What is your impression of the rape victim?”

“What is your impression of the young men?”

“Do you think there is racial inequity in Durham?”

“Do you think that there are racial tensions in Durham?”

Gurney said other questions sought information about Gurney’s education level, salary and expertise in a variety of fields.

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One response

21 09 2006

Oh, and while I’m at it…now might be a good time to reflect upon the slogan “innocent until proven guilty”.

If proving some people guilty is a whole lot easier than proving other people guilty, the privilege dripping from that slogan becomes a lot easier to identify.

Okay, I’m gonna take a few deep breaths now

– J

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