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DA throws out ALE citations from party

District Attorney Mike Nifong has decided to dismiss citations issued to about 75 Duke students by Alcohol Law Enforcement agents at 1206 W. Markham Ave. in an Aug. 25 raid.

Nifong's decision came after District Court Judge Craig Brown ruled last week in favor of a motion to suppress all evidence gathered in the house. Local attorneys presented the motion on the students' behalf.

Evidence that is now suppressed includes any observations the officers made, statements given by the students, evidence seized and results of breath tests.

Local attorneys also confirmed that they will file motions to suppress evidence in the cases of students who were cited at other houses, in street encounters and vehicle stops by ALE agents as part of the same operation during the first weekend Duke students returned to school.

The lawyers contend that the methods the ALE agents used to detain students and collect evidence at 1026 W. Trinity Ave. and 910 Gregson St. were unconstitutional.

About 30 students were cited at the Gregson Street house, and about 10 students were cited at the Trinity Avenue house, attorney Tom Loflin said.

"We are maintaining that the actions of the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement were unconstitutional-that they were violative of the defendants' Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, in violation of the North Carolina Constitution and the North Carolina general statutes with respect to search and seizure," said attorney Bill Thomas, who is representing students cited at the Trinity Avenue house.

There were similar legal issues involved with the detention of students near East Campus or in vehicle stops, said Robert Ekstrand, an attorney representing students cited at all three houses and a lecturing fellow at the School of Law.

"Most important to the decision was that students were in custody and basically forced to confess or prove their innocence before being allowed to leave without being read their Miranda rights," Ekstrand said. "That happened in virtually all of the cases that I've seen, whether that took place in a house or a car."

ALE agents testified last week that they did not have a warrant but did have consent when entering the Trinity Avenue house, said Loflin, whose clients were only cited at the Markham Avenue house. "The only way you get consent to get into somebody's house is if you are voluntarily invited in-and the question 'Was that voluntary?' is going to be very, very fact-specific," he said.

A number of lawyers expressed surprise that the DA did not dismiss the charges against students cited at the Trinity Avenue and Gregson Street houses in the face of Brown's ruling.

"I would have hoped that the DA would have used [Brown's ruling] as a basis for dismissing those charges as well," attorney Eddie Falcone said, noting that the situations seem similar. "Obviously, if that was the case there would be no reason for a judge to rule differently."

The DA's office will take recitations from ALE agents about what occurred at the off-campus houses and may dismiss the citations before the students' December court dates, Loflin said.

"It's my hope [the DA] will have exhaustive conversations with the ALE agents and the Durham police officers involved so he gets a full understanding of precisely what happened," Ekstrand said. "If he's able to do that, then I think there's a very strong possibility the other cases will be dismissed without the need of a hearing."

In court Tuesday, students cited at the Trinity Avenue house who pled for motions of continuance had their next court date set for Dec. 6.

Other cited students had their cases continued until Dec. 13.


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