OC Jailhouse Informants Scandal Prompts New State Law

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Gov. Jerry Brown this week signed a new law, prompted by the OC jailhouse informants scandal, that cracks down on prosecutors who withhold evidence from defense attorneys and courts.

News of the law was first reported locally by The Orange County Register. Here’s an excerpt from the Register article:

The legislation…strengthens the ability of judges to remove individual prosecutors and, if warranted, their offices, from cases if prosecutors are found willfully withholding evidence.

The new law also requires judges to report offending prosecutors to the state bar, which licenses attorneys.

The bill was not widely supported by Orange County legislators, though District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said Tuesday he supported it.

The legislation was sponsored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, a professor at San Diego State University whose late husband was a judge.

She said the legislation is important because it forces judges to hold prosecutors accountable.

“I’ve always had as a priority this whole issue of social justice,” Weber said. “When it doesn’t work, it has the tendency to do a lot of harm.”

Weber also said inspiration from the law tracked to events in Orange County.

In March, a Superior Count judge barred the District Attorney’s Office – all 250 lawyers – from the highest-profile mass murder case in county history.

Judge Thomas Goethals made the rare move of kicking the Orange County District Attorney’s Office off the case, saying prosecutors couldn’t ensure a fair trial in the penalty phase of the trial of confessed mass murderer Scott Dekraai.

Goethals sited misleading or false testimony from sheriff’s deputies about jailhouse informants and the unintentional failure of prosecutors to turn over evidence.

The Dekraai case was handed to the state Attorney General’s Office, which is appealing on the grounds that the judge overstepped.

An Orange County public defender, representing Dekraai and double-murder defendant Daniel Wozniak, has accused police and prosecutors of illegally using jailhouse informants over the past 30 years to coax confessions from defendants and withholding evidence about those informants.

Rackauckas has admitted in past interviews that his prosecutors made some mistakes in handing over evidence and using informants, but none intentionally.

Here are links to previous Voice of OC articles on the scandal:

Wozniak Lawyer Chronicles 30 years of Abuses by Local Law Enforcement

State AG Will Investigate Alleged Misconduct in Dekraai Case

Murders Forgotten: How Far Did Prosecutors Go to Hide Informants Network?

Testimony Provides Rare Look into Use of Jailhouse Informants

Please contact David Washburn directly at dwashburn@voiceofoc.org.

  • OCservant_Leader

    What about this “recall” the DA campaign I heard at a Recent BOS meeting?

    Did ANY media catch THAT story?

  • Paul Lucas

    This should be retroactive.

  • LFOldTimer

    So they needed a new law? I always thought the State had perjury, subordination of perjury and prosecutorial misconduct laws (like willfully withholding material evidence favorable to the defense) on the books in California for decades. Silly me. Instead of dreaming up a new law, how ’bout just enforcing the old ones? Oh wait. I forgot. The laws only apply to the peasants. That’s the unwritten but widely known law. 😉

  • Bob Brock

    How embarrassing that the state has to come in and try to clean up a mess created by our unethical and ineffectual DA.