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57 Convictions Voided In Orange County, Ca., Informant Scandal

A new analysis from California Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders found that Orange County’s illegal use of jailhouse informants resulted in 35 homicide convictions and 22 serious felony convictions overturned, charges dropped and sentences dramatically reduced, the Associated Press reports. “We already knew that this was the largest and longest running informant scandal in U.S. history, but there had never been a complete accounting of the cases with changed outcomes,” Sanders said. The analysis was partly based on data from the district attorney’s office. With Sanders first raising concerns in 2014, state and federal investigators confirmed that Orange County prosecutors and law enforcement officers systematically violated the constitutional rights of criminal defendants with the illegal use of jailhouse informants.


Some informants collected up to $1,500 pease to coax confessions out of targeted inmates. Many of those inmates had a constitutional right not to be questioned by informants because they had already been charged and retained attorneys. Some of the informants used threats of violence to persuade their targets to talk, which is not allowed by law. Prosecutors failed to disclose to defense attorneys the use of informants and their histories. The cases occurred during the tenure of former District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. The use of informants under current DA Todd Spitzer is more restricted. Authorities can use jailhouse informants but can’t have them deliberately elicit information from defendants once they are represented by lawyers. In addition, prosecutors are required to turn over evidence to defense attorneys that could be seen as favorable to their clients.


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