More than three dozen former prosecutors and advocacy organizations joined TCP in urging the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department over the use of jailhouse informants and the concealment of informant‐related evidence.
In a 16-page letter delivered to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on November 18, the group details a number of questionable occurrences stretching back decades. “[I]t is fair to say that the criminal justice system in Orange County is in a state of crisis: charges in extremely serious cases have been reduced or dismissed; violent crimes—including murders—have gone entirely uninvestigated; to date, four law enforcement officers have refused to testify in pending criminal matters, citing their Fifth Amendment privilege against self‐incrimination; and at least one prosecutor has been found by a court to have given ‘incredible’ testimony under oath. More troubling still, this all appears to be the tip of the iceberg,” the letter said.
Although the use of jailhouse informants, or “snitches,” is not uncommon, it cannot be done in a way that violates an inmate’s constitutionally-guaranteed right to counsel or denies defense counsel access to potentially exculpatory evidence. The Orange County program infringes on both, the group asserts. They said the breadth and depth of the concerns raised in their letter makes the Department of Justice the only entity with the capacity to conduct the investigation required.
Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, of the UC Irvine School of Law, and former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp are joined on the letter by recognized legal experts and leaders, such as former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti, Harvard legal theorist Charles Ogletree, former Chief Assistant United States Attorney Richard Drooyan, and prosecutorial power scholar Professor Angela Davis. Several national and state organizations joined TCP in signing the letter, including the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National Association of Public Defenders and the American Civil Liberties Union of California.