The N.C. State Bar banned a Johnston County prosecutor from practicing law for a year but stayed the suspension and instead placed him on two years’ probation.
After a disciplinary hearing March 3, the bar found that Paul Jackson mishandled a 2011 rape case, and because of that, the defendant remained in jail for an additional four and a half months.
Specifically, Jackson failed to take notice when rape kit results became available, and he inaccurately told a judge that he had been in contact with the State Crime Lab. The defendant’s DNA did not match the sample in the rape kit.
The bar reduced Jackson’s punishment in part because of his remorse and cooperation, good reputation, lack of prior offenses and absence of a selfish motive. The bar also considered that the defendant, Elio De La Cruz, would have remained in custody anyway under a deportation order from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
During his probation, Jackson will have to pay the full costs of the disciplinary procedure, take extra continuing legal training and abide by state law and professional rules.
Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle said in a statement that she has total confidence in Jackson’s integrity and professionalism.
“I am pleased the Bar found this to be an honest mistake,” she said.
De La Cruz was charged in June 2011 with second-degree rape of a mentally disabled woman. He was charged also with felonious restraint and possessing cocaine. Within days, law enforcement sent a rape kit to the State Crime Laboratory, and the results came back 15 months later, in September 2012.
But in a January 2013 hearing, Jackson told a judge that he had corresponded with the crime lab and that the test had yet to be completed. The hearing concerned motions that De La Cruz's attorney had filed in May, October and December 2012 to have the charges against his client dismissed on speedy-trial grounds.
In court documents, Jackson said he mistakenly thought he or someone else in his office had been in contact with the crime lab between September 2011 and January 2013.
“The defendant relied on the process and procedures instituted, but that process failed due to human error,” court documents read.
Jackson learned of the rape kit results in late January 2013, and he dropped the rape and restraint charges because the DNA did not match. Jackson also dismissed the drug charges because De La Cruz had already served more time awaiting trial than he could have received if found guilty of possessing cocaine. De La Cruz remained in custody under an ICE deportation order.
In her statement, Doyle said Jackson did not have to drop the charges against De La Cruz.
“Upon discovering his oversight, Paul, in order to be fair, immediately took a dismissal of the charges even though there was other substantial evidence of the defendant’s guilt,” she said.