Prosecutors and the Law

November 9, 2007 • Volume 17, Issue 40
Is prosecutorial misconduct a serious problem?
By Kenneth Jost

Introduction

Michael B. Nifong resigned as district attorney in Durham, N.C., amid allegations of prosecutorial misconduct during the 2006 rape case involving three Duke University lacrosse players. He was also disbarred and jailed for one day and now faces a civil lawsuit filed by the players. Michael B. Nifong resigned as district attorney in Durham, N.C., amid allegations of prosecutorial misconduct during the 2006 rape case involving three Duke University lacrosse players. He was also disbarred and jailed for one day and now faces a civil lawsuit filed by the players.

Three former Duke University lacrosse players are putting their lives back together after being wrongfully accused of rape in a sensational case that dominated headlines nationwide for more than a year. The case collapsed after Durham, N.C., District Attorney Michael B. Nifong was shown to have withheld evidence that law and ethical rules require be turned over to defense lawyers. Nifong's actions resulted in his resignation and disbarment and helped generate widespread debate about prosecutorial misconduct. Prosecutors say misconduct occurs only infrequently. But many critics say infractions are more common than prosecutors acknowledge and rarely are punished. They call for courts and lawyer-discipline bodies to take stronger action when prosecutors violate legal or ethical rules. But several factors, including limited resources, may limit any move toward stiffer sanctions for prosecutorial misconduct.

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