First things first, there is nothing wrong with the majority of prosecutors, just like there’s nothing wrong with the majority of criminal defense lawyers. Although, if you can’t use the word “majority,” you can at least say that it’s wrong to demonize an entire group of people.
That’s certainly not what Radley Balko does, in his piece about the “rampaging prosecutor” in the Duke lacrosse case involving the alleged rape of a stripper perpetrated by three athletes, with its focus on former Durham County prosecutor Mike Nifong, who was subsequently stripped of his license to practice.
But there definitely is a problem when prosecutors do run amok, or rampage, or whatever you want to call it. Call it a miscarriage of justice, to use the old legal term of art. That’s exactly what Balko seems to assert has happened on a consistent basis in Durham County, North Carolina.
Here’s Balko in the Washington Post: “Prosecutors are rarely ever removed from office for misconduct.” Yet Mike Nifong was removed in 2007 following the Duke lacrosse case. And the prosecutor to come after Nifong, Tracey Cline, was booted in 2012. “[P]rosecutorial misconduct is rarely a one-off phenomenon,” Balko writes. “If it has happened once with a prosecutor, or within a particular office, it has probably happened before.”
How exactly did Nifong rampage?
He gave dozens of interviews to the media about the case – before trial even started – to places like 60 Minutes and Fox News. He offered his speculative opinion about the defendants, calling them “hooligans,” in what can only be viewed as a misguided attempt to shape the outcome of the case. And, in one of the more stunning examples of his prosecutorial misconduct (other than the more blatant withholding of exculpatory DNA evidence) was his failure to interview the accuser – at any point – before making his statements and before taking part in his dozens of interviews.
Why do we need writers like Radley Balko? Why do we need strong and healthy criminal defense bars? Because the possibility of prosecutorial misconduct – which puts people away regardless of their guilt or innocence – is too dangerous to ignore.