WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- D.A. Michael Nifongwithheld DNA test results that would have helped prove the innocence of threeDuke University lacrosse players accused of rape, according to a recent CBS 60Minutes story. Now, experts are saying Nifong's aggressive prosecution can betraced 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 gonetoo far and often violates the civil liberties of innocent citizens.
"Many people think of the Violence Against Women Act in terms of stoppingpartner assault," notes Lisa Scott, family law attorney. "But VAWA has alsoreworked state laws that govern rape and sexual assault so due processprotections are short-circuited." Scott heads the Washington-state legalreform group, Taking Action Against Bias in the System.
For years, advocates have been trying to "reverse the presumption ofinnocence," according to a Cato Institute report by Michael Weiss and CathyYoung. Weiss is a law professor at the University of Houston; Young is acolumnist 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 thepolice policy," write attorneys James Shalley and Don Murray of New York City.
Even if the accuser later decides to drop the charges, many jurisdictionshave adopted so-called "no-drop" policies that require the prosecutor topursue the case.
When the case goes to trial, "evidentiary standards for proving abuse havebeen so relaxed that any man who stands accused is considered guilty,"according to constitutional law expert Cheryl Hanna of the Vermont Law School.
In some states, advocacy groups are pushing for laws that would banpolygraph (lie-detector) tests for women who make a rape charge. That changewould make it more difficult for a person who is falsely-accused to beexonerated.
Fox News columnist Wendy McElroy has looked at rape allegations madeagainst public figures such as Crossfire co-host Tucker Carlson, and concludedthat "false rape charges hurt real victims.
R.A.D.A.R. -- Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting -- is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of men and women working to assure that theproblem of domestic violence is treated in a balanced and effective manner.www.mediaradar.org.
SOURCE R.A.D.A.R.(Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting)