Astounding as it is, the state bar of North Carolina has disbarred a prosecutor for ethical violations in prosecuting a case. Suffice it to say, getting a prosecutor disbarred for doing their core duties (as opposed to doing something unethical outside their duties, such as committing a crime on their own time) in an unethical manner is an unusual occurrence. North Carolina has a pretty tepid history of punishing prosecutors who withhold evidence. In the case of Alan Gell, prosecutors withheld important exculpatory evidence and gained a conviction putting Gell on death row for 9 years. He was lucky enough to get a new trial and get off death row in an unusual manner - through exoneration. Consider him lucky. In that case, and another, prosecutors got off with barely a slap on the wrist for wrongly putting someone on death row. You can read more about those cases here.
It is hard not to be a little cynical about this whole thing. As I've discussed previously, one of the main reasons this case has made the press, and that Nifong is getting the book thrown at him, has to do with race and class. Obviously, we all know that the defendants in this case were white and relatively well-off (playing an "upper middle class" sport lacrosse no less) and that the victim was African American and poorer. I don't think that it's a straight race or class issue, but both work hand in hand to create a very dynamic for these defendants and prosecutor than you'd see in your typical case (typical cases involve poorer people and higher percentages of minorities).
This is why prosecutors can withhold evidence on poor minorities (or even poor white people - Gell was white), and generally escape serious punishment. Now let's be clear, Nifong did some serious digging here, putting himself front and center of this absurd prosecution -probably in order to ensure his re-election. So, he was not your typical prosecutor withholding evidence, but it does bear some scrutiny that Nifong did things that prosecutors everywhere have done (I'm not saying that all prosecutors, or even that a large percentage of them, do this. Far from it, it's a small minority, at least where I practice), yet most prosecutors face little or no sanction for doing these things.
And what is the message to other zealous, or especially overzealous, prosecutors? The message is that you can continue to do this without real fear of sanction. Think about it. You're a prosecutor in a heinous case with a defendant you despise. You believe he did it, but you know you probably can't prove it. You can withhold a little evidence, plead ignorance, and have the person go away for a decade or two before his case gets reversed (which is a longshot anyways, since 90% or more of all appeals are denied anyways - even for likely innocent people - think "harmless error"), if it gets reversed at all. Or you can be ethical and watch him get acquitted right now, possibly hurting your chances at advancement within your office. Moreover, it's a blow to you personally.
Most prosecutors won't care, they'll do the right thing. However, there are a number of overzealous ones out there, aware of the manner in which the courts and state bars enable this activity, that will do the wrong thing - just because they can.
It's nice that Nifong got nailed, and got nailed the way he did. I rather think it has more to do with the type of person he dragged down rather than what he did. He went after otherwise really good people whom he dragged way down in contrast to otherwise unremarkable, or even bad people, who didn't fall far from where they already were when ensnared by unethical prosecutors. I'd like the punishment to prosecutors to be the same regardless. Remember, Nifong felt like he could act with impunity towards these otherwise good, law abiding, people only because of the well-trod path laid out before him by his predecessors. That should scare everyone.