Prosecutors talk about Nifong disbarment

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Indiana prosecutors worry about heightened suspicion of charging decisions they make as a result of the high-profile disbarment of a North Carolina prosecutor over the weekend.

Talk started months ago as the situation escalated, but banter took a new surge this morning following Michael Nifong's nationally televised disciplinary proceeding Saturday. He was disbarred for violating professional conduct rules in his prosecution of three Duke University lacrosse players falsely accused of rape.

"Around the country and here, prosecutors are talking about the Nifong effect," said Stephen Johnson, executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council. "This is a black mark against all prosecutors."

The North Carolina bar charged Nifong with breaking several rules of professional conduct, including lying to both the court and bar investigators and withholding critical DNA test results from the players' defense attorneys. The commission unanimously agreed that Nifong's actions involved "dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation."

The 29-year prosecutor said he would waive any right to appeal the punishment in an attempt to help restore faith in the criminal justice system and the role prosecutors serve throughout the country.

"I can't even express my disgust for this guy," said Cass County deputy prosecutor Randall Head. "Nifong's behavior defies belief, but it's an aberration. Most prosecutors I know make a concentrated effort to avoid problems Nifong created, and I have never known a prosecutor who engaged in the systematic cover up of exculpatory evidence the way he did."

Head said he believes this case will help educate the public about the Rules of Professional Conduct and what prosecutors are not allowed to do, as well as have an impact on how juries view DNA results.

Johnson found a bit of irony in this case, as North Carolina's system is similar to that in Indiana and Hoosier lawmakers spent time this past legislative session talking about the Nifong situation and comparing it to this state's system.

"They missed the point," he said. "What's different is that here, we're more often talking about charges not being filed. That says a lot. Justice is often served by not filing charges."

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