Durham, NC -- Today, the Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the North Carolina State Bar determined that disbarment is the appropriate penalty for Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong’s “intentional prosecutorial misconduct” in charging three Duke students with serious crimes. The judgment of Mr. Nifong by his professional colleagues is a stinging rebuke.
At the end of the Attorney General’s review in April and now the Bar’s proceeding, one fact stares us in the face: the ordeal of the last 15 months was wholly unnecessary. It was not the result of reasonable differences of legal opinion or honest errors of judgment. Our students were accused by the community’s senior law enforcement officer with no credible basis in fact.
Evidence that could have helped establish their innocence was systematically ignored. Meanwhile, the DA continued to make inflammatory statements expressing confidence that the crimes had occurred. Repeated around the world, these statements established a “certainty” it took months to dispel.
A heavy responsibility flows from this abuse of power. The harshest and most direct harm was done to the three students and their families, who suffered from the very place we look to for justice. Other members of their team were also harmed when they were included in Mr. Nifong’s blanket accusations. Duke University was also included in the harm in having to respond to the Durham District Attorney’s assurances that a crime had been committed and the unprecedented crisis those assurances unleashed. The actions Duke took caused consternation to many in the university family, which I profoundly regret.
Finally, harm was done to the criminal justice system itself. In our society, we rely on the criminal justice system to settle disputes of fact and value. But our system only works when the public has faith in the system’s integrity and justice; and this requires that those entrusted with the law act in a way that assures us of their fairness and uprightness. We applaud the actions of the bar today -- and of Attorney General Cooper in April -- in helping to restore that elemental trust. The appointment of a new District Attorney will be another positive step.
As Duke University’s president, I resolve to do my part to repair the harm unleashed by Mr. Nifong’s actions and to move forward from this painful episode.
For more information, contact: John Burness | (919) 681-3788 | firstname.lastname@example.org