Orange County Judge Disqualifies District Attorney’s Office from Prosecuting Death Penalty Case
Since March, there has been media surrounding the alleged illegal use of jailhouse informants at the sheriff’s and district attorney’s offices in Orange County, California. Yesterday, a story published on
discusses the actions of a superior court judge who decided to address the corruption by issuing an order that disqualifies the entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office from continuing to prosecute one of the county’s death penalty cases.
, Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals ruled in March that none of the 250 prosecutors from the district attorney’s office will be allowed to work on the death penalty case of Scott Dekraai—who has pled guilty to eight murders—because his due process rights may have been violated. The judge’s decision came after a courageous battle by Dekaai’s attorney, Santa Ana Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, to prove that the county’s sheriff’s and the district attorney’s offices were cohorts in systemic misconduct and that his client may have been negatively affected.
Last year, Sanders argued that the sheriff’s department violated Dekaai’s constitutional rights when it deliberately placed an informant in a cell neighboring Dekaai’s to solicit Dekaai’s confession and that this action was an indicator of widespread corruption in collaboration with the district attorney’s office. Initially, Judge Goethals acknowledged the actions as negligent but stated that there was no malintent.
The judge’s opinion changed, however, when Sanders revealed that the department stored all of the information collected by informants—some of it exculpatory—in a secret
, that prosecutors failed to make the information known in court and, according to
, that law enforcement officials lied in court, denying that the database even existed.
Based on the revelation, the judge threw the district attorney’s office off the Dekaai case and wrote: “It is now apparent that the discovery situation in this case is far worse than the court previously realized. In fact, a wealth of potentially relevant discovery material—an entire computerized data base built and maintained by the Orange County Sheriff over the course of many years which is a repository for information related directly to the very issues that this court was examining as a result of the defendant’s motion—remained secret, despite numerous specific discovery orders issued by this court, until long after the initial evidentiary hearing in this case was concluded and rulings were made.”
article points out that, besides the fact that the sheriff’s office used informants illegally, it also had no safeguards in place to motivate informants from falsifying information in exchange for benefits, such as reduced sentences or even cash.
Judge Goethals summarized the misconduct, in this case and in the district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices overall, when we wrote, according to
: “[C]ertain aspects of the district attorney’s performance. . .might be described as a comedy of errors but for the fact that it has been so sadly deficient. . . . There is nothing funny about that.”
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