Duke Lacrosse Challenge Analysis

Here is the play-by-play analysis from the original Duke Lacrosse Challenge article.

1. “Only” Where It Counts

Thus, despite telling Sgt. Gottlieb that she could identify the three men by their first names, and then giving him three names, the accuser now, after the passage of 8 months, claims that she could only identify two men by first names[.]

The contrast here is with two men, not with identify. So only should go right before two men: “[T]he accuser now . . . claims she could identify only two men by their first names.”

We lawyers often put only too early in the sentence, a mistake that serves only to obscure meaning. Better to wait for the right moment so readers understand the limitation only as intended.

2. Take Possession

All of these news conferences presented only his side of this issue and were made prior to him personally submitting these charges to the Grand Jury.

Submitting is a gerund. So, like other nouns, it needs a possessive pronoun. Write “his personally submitting,” just as you would say “I appreciate your coming today.” Think of it this way: The submitting belongs to Nifong just as much as the side belongs to him.

Would you rather avoid the whole mess? Replace prior to with before:

These news conferences, which presented only his side of this issue, took place before he submitted the charges to the Grand Jury.

Cut personally as well. Unless, that is, you can tell me how Nifong could have submitted the charges impersonally.

3. Split Decision

If, however, the accuser was telling the truth on March 14, this would mean that Dave Evans now must be “Matt.”

We lawyers often force the adverb outside the compound verb because we believe the grammar rules say so. Here’s the problem: We’re misapplying the split-infinitive rule to compound verbs. We know to avoid “to now be Matt,” so we think we must also avoid “must now be Matt.”

Yet we don’t. So when it comes to compound verbs, write what comes naturally:

If, however, the accuser told the truth on March 14, Dave Evans must now be “Matt.”

4. Hyphen Penalties

This conduct had the effect of propelling the District Attorney’s name and image into the national and local press and media during his highly-contested election campaign.

Do the hyphen rules drive you crazy? You’re not alone.

Because an adverb-naturally, ordinarily, likely-modifies the word that follows it, you need not hyphenate adverbs such as highly in phrases such as highly contested. Readers know that highly modifies contested-not election or campaign.

By contrast, adverbs such as well and much that don’t end in –ly are treated like phrasal adjectives, so a hyphen is in order.

Remember this: A “well-established doctrine” needs a hyphen, but an “intricately developed doctrine” does not.

5. Bad Break Up

In his zeal to push this case forward, and claim the national spotlight, on March 31, 2006, DA Nifong met with Durham Police Investigators and improperly injected himself into the photographic lineup proceedings, causing the Durham Police Department to violate its own policies in an effort to insure himself a source of information from which he could indict one or more Duke Lacrosse players.

Because push and claim share the same subject-the world-famous Mr. Nifong-you don’t need a comma between them.

You could also add to before claim for both clarity and parallel structure: “In his zeal to push this case forward and to claim the national spotlight, DA Nifong . . .”

Bonus Point: Insure means financial insurance or indemnification. Ensure, by contrast, means to guarantee or to make safe. In this excerpt, DA Nifong was not insuring himself-at least not yet. Instead, suggest the lawyers, he was ensuring himself an indictment.