How the Mighty Have Fallen!

Mike Nifong, the North Carolina prosecutor who did his best to falsely convict the Duke Lacrosse players of rape, has been disbarred and will probably be sued by the boys’ families in a civil action.

Good.   The abuses this man committed against the legal system are overwhelming and horrific, and he should never be allowed to practice law again.  And I don’t blame the boys’ families for trying to recoup the millions of dollars they had to spend defending the blatantly false charges, although Nifong is pretty close to being “judgment proof” and they’ll probably never see a dime.

What saddens me most about this case, however, is that it probably won’t lead to any meaningful examination of the criminal justice system.  There’s no telling how many times Nifong cut corners and cheated in cases involving indigent defendants: there’s no telling how many innocent people he’s put away in his lust for power and courtroom wins.  Ideally, the state of North Carolina would take a look at other cases in his decades-long career, but whatever damage he’s done will probably stay done. 

If anything, I hope this case has opened people’s eyes to the fact that prosecutors often abuse the considerable power and discretion afforded them: contrary to conventional wisdom, a defendant is not guilty just because he’s been arrested and indicted.  Jokes about sleazy defense attorneys are a dime a dozen, and defense attorneys have largely earned the negative stereotypes deployed against them.  But prosecutors are just as bad, and less accountable to boot.  What we’re seeing happen to Nifong is extremely rare: prosecutors and cops abuse the criminal justice system to get the results they want, and they do it every day.  The difference here was that the particular defendants they chose to pick on this time were affluent and had a lot of determined people working to vindicate them.  Most defendants don’t.

Every time a person is wrongfully convicted, the real criminal walks free.  So not only is the innocent defendant’s life destroyed, but the victims and all of society suffers.  It’s nice to see a crooked prosecutor get the boot, but it would be nicer if we all cared more about the daily injustices done in courthouses that don’t get the prolonged attention of the national media. 

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~ by lewdandlascivious on June 17, 2007.

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