SANTA ANA – The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) today asked the Orange County District Attorney’s office and Sheriff’s Department to spell out their policies and practices involving disclosure of exculpatory evidence and the use of jailhouse informants in light of serious concerns over constitutional violations.
The requests, filed under the California Public Records Act, come in the wake of a wide-spread scandal involving both agencies’ use of in-custody informants to elicit incriminating information from defendants despite a constitutional ban on such practices.
“We know that Orange County officials have failed to play by the rules,” said Brendan Hamme, staff attorney with ACLU SoCal.“What we don’t know is how many innocent people were wrongly convicted because prosecutors and law enforcement adopted a win at any cost strategy.”
The scandal exploded during the trial of Scott Dekraai, who admitted to the 2011 killing of eight people in Seal Beach. Sheriff’s officials placed an informant next to Dekraai’s cell but failed to disclose that fact to the court and defense attorneys.
Since then, a state judge has banned the entire district attorney’s office from the case, and a trove of documents surfaced, revealing that prosecutors and the sheriff’s department worked together, in some cases promising informants reduced sentences in exchange for obtaining incriminating evidence.
These revelations have led courts to overturn at least half a dozen convictions, finding that Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus’ office failed to fulfill its duties, including that it turn over information that is favorable to a defendant.
“Orange County officials tell the public they can be trusted to clean up the scandal they created,” said Caitlin Sanderson, staff attorney with ACLU SoCal. “But that’s simply not good enough. Not given the scope of what has been uncovered. Not given the existence of a secret 25-year-old computerized database that contained potentially exculpatory evidence yet was intentionally concealed from defense attorneys. And not given the fact that prosecutors and law enforcement continue to maintain that they did nothing wrong even as courts overturn convictions because of government misconduct.”
ACLU SoCal’s request, which seeks policies, manuals, training materials, memos and other documents dating back to 1985, aims to ensure that both agencies fully address the scope of the scandal and avoid future miscarriages of justice.
Read the PRA request to the OC District Attorney: https://www.aclusocal.org/issues/accountability/ocda-pra/
Read the PRA request to the OC Sheriff's Department: http://www.aclusocal.org/issues/accountability/oc-sheriff-pra/