Orange County-wide jailhouse informant violated defendants’ rights, Justice Department says

The US Justice Department said Thursday that the sheriff’s department and prosecutors in Orange County, Calif., ran an extensive jailhouse informant program for years that violated the rights of criminal defendants.

The federal agency, which began investigating the allegations in 2016, released a lengthy report detailing the use of informers by Orange County officials from 2007 to 2016 and their failure to release information, as required by law, from attorneys. to the accused about the objectionable statements collected by the informers by the

The report said the district attorney’s office had failed to conduct a thorough investigation into the scandal that shocked three million people and called for “an independent body to conduct a more comprehensive review of previous cases involving custodial informers.” should be established.”

Officers may use jailhouse informants, but they may not be allowed to knowingly obtain information from defendants after being represented by lawyers. In addition, prosecutors are required to hand over evidence to defense attorneys that can be viewed favorably to their clients.

Orange County, which saw several criminal cases after the allegations surfaced, stopped using informers in 2016, the report said.

“The failure to protect these basic constitutional guarantees not only deprives individual defendants of their rights, but it undermines public confidence in the fundamental fairness of the criminal justice system across the county,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clark said in a statement. does.”

The report comes years after he was charged with the man who shot and killed eight people at a hair salon in 2011.

Scott Decrai pleaded guilty to the murders, but was spared the death penalty over the use of an informant by officers while represented by a lawyer – which was discovered when his lawyer flagged that the informer was also involved in another high Tha-profile case.

In a separate instance, a gang member charged with a 2004 murder struck a plea deal and a short prison sentence after an earlier conviction was set aside over concerns that prosecutors had failed to share critical evidence. .

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said he has cooperated with the federal investigation since he took office four years ago and has led his investigation that found veteran prosecutors in the Decrai case were negligent. He said much of the informant’s activity was hidden from prosecutors, to prevent proper disclosure of the information.

“This report confirms exactly what we already knew,” Spitzer said in a statement. “I have made it abundantly clear that I refuse to accept the ‘win at all cost’ mentality of the former administration”.

The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Scott Sanders, an assistant public defender representing Dekrai, said the federal report shows county agencies are still not doing enough to protect the rights of accused.

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