Orange County California DAs’ Office disqualified from seeking death penalty against Seal Beach murderer

Since the 1980s, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) in California and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) apparently have been routinely violating the constitutional rights of incarcerated defendants awaiting trial to remain silent (Fifth Amendment), to counsel (Sixth Amendment) and to due process of law (Fourteenth Amendment) by placing jailhouse informants in adjoining cells with instructions to elicit confessions from them in return for extra privileges, reduced sentences and cash payments. When they testified about the confessions, the jailhouse informants denied requesting or receiving any benefits in exchange for their testimony and the OCDA and OCSD concealed the existence of the agreements. The polite description of this arrangement is subornation of perjury.

Dahlia Lithwick reports for Slate,

Prosecutorial and police misconduct are often dismissed as just a few bad apples doing a few bad apple-ish things. But what happens when it’s entrenched and systemic and goes unchecked for years? That looks to be the case in Orange County, California, where the situation got so completely out of hand this spring that Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals issued an order disqualifying the entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office (that’s all 250 prosecutors) from continuing to prosecute a major death penalty case.

The death penalty case is People v. Scott Dekraai, who is in custody awaiting a penalty phase hearing after pleading guilty last year to killing his ex-wife and seven others at a beauty parlor in Seal Beach in 2011. Dekraai’s attorney is Santa Ana assistant public defender Scott Sanders, who realized that a jailhouse informant who had produced damning evidence about Dekraai had done the same thing to another client he was representing. Sanders smelled a rat, so he commenced an investigation that resulted in the discovery of “60,000 pages of records indicating that the county sheriff’s office routinely used and coordinated with those informants to get around the constitutional prohibition on eliciting incriminating statements from defendants who had lawyered up and should not have been interrogated.”

Sanders also found out “that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has maintained a massive, secret, 25-year-old computerized record-keeping system called TRED. These TRED documents were full of potentially exculpatory data, but the agency officials had systematically refused to turn any of them over, or even acknowledge their very existence, to defense counsel.”

Judge Goethals refused to dismiss Sanders’s motion to dismiss the death penalty but he granted the motion to disqualify the OCDA and its 250 prosecutors. Kamala Harris, the Attorney General for the State of California, is appealing his order.

The alleged misconduct, if true, is not only an egregious violation of three constitutional rights, it’s a 25-year practice of concealing what they were doing. The rules are clear. After a suspect/defendant is represented by counsel, the prosecution and the police are prohibited from contacting him without permission from the attorney. They are also prohibited from attempting to get around the rule by using inmates to obtain confessions from defendants represented by counsel. In that situation, the inmate becomes an agent of law enforcement acting under their direction and control. A violation of this rule is a violation of a defendant’s right to remain silent and his right to have counsel present during an interrogation. The remedy for violating this rule is exclusion of the confession.

This rule does not prohibit inmates from acting on their own, which often happens when an inmate seeks to lighten his load by obtaining a confession from the defendant. If successful, he will contact law enforcement or the prosecutor assigned to the case and play, ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’

Unfortunately, if he is unsuccessful, he may invent a confession containing inside information about the offense. There are ways to obtain that information, for example, by contacting a clerk or paralegal in the prosecutor’s office and misrepresenting himself to be a reporter or a lawyer calling about the case. The OCDA and the OCSD apparently decided to make it easy by streamlining the process and lying about it afterward. Rewards, including promises to reward informants in the future are considered exculpatory evidence that must be disclosed to defense counsel. Failure to do so is a violation of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Why did they do that? To get the conviction, of course.

Easy to do when you believe everyone is guilty and constitutional rights are mere impediments to convicting the guilty.

Orange County now has an enormous mess to clean up and God only knows how many innocent people have been wrongfully convicted and sentenced to prison behind this institutional misconduct. Perhaps they will find out an innocent person was executed.

I have said many times that criminal defense attorneys are liberty’s last champions. If they do their job, as Scott Sanders did in this case, they force everyone else to follow the rules. Unfortunately, it took 25 years for that to happen in Orange County.

8 Responses to Orange County California DAs’ Office disqualified from seeking death penalty against Seal Beach murderer

  1. Two sides to a story says:

    Ironically you won’t read much about this stofy in the sad and slanted Orange Country Register rag, a mouthpiece for OC Republicans and the DAs office. But alternative presses have done some excellent pieces, helping to expose the corruption in the big OC.

    Don’t forget that this is one and the same DA office who managed to help pick a pro-police jury and to exclude the video from evidence of Fullerton city cops brutally punching homeless man Kelly Thomas to death. Of course the two cops charged after a year of constant marches and outcry by the public at Fullerton city council meetings ended up being found not guilty, though they were guilty as hell, along with four others who either participated or stood by and did nothing. : /

    There’s probably a lot more dirt to be exposed.

    • Yeah, I recognized the prosecutor, Tony Rackauckas, in a photo.

      BTW, Shaun King also has an article about the case.

      • Two sides to a story says:

        Yes, and TR’s name sort of gags me trying to say it, LOL.

        Cool on the Shaun King article link – thank you!

    • Malisha says:

      Oh I suspect them of a lot worse than that which has already been reported. The prosecutors, because of their too-broad discretion (both to charge and not to charge, to fake things, to withhold evidence, to make up evidence, etc. etc. etc.) and their “sovereign immunity” from punishment for anything they do (even if it amounts to murder, as it does when a prosecutor frames, convicts and gets the death penalty for an innocent defendant) end up making them the MOST untouchable of all criminals in our court system. Even more than judges. When they want a murder excused, they do what Corey and BDLR did in Florida and throw a trial; when they want a case faked up, they do everything needed to fake up a conviction too.

      Who’s going to open up all the other cases these thugs have faked or ruined?

    • gblock says:

      As someone who has lived in California for many years, I doubt that this has resulted in any actual executions, just because in this state, it takes so long for a death penalty conviction to get through all the appeals before an execution takes place. I have no doubt that it has resulted in many false convictions and long prison sentences. One thing that increases the temptation to encourage such practices is that some of the people involved are elected. In most cases, most of the electorate knows little about the candidates, but pointing to a high conviction rate tends to look good on one’s election materials, in a general conservative place like Orange County.

      • Two sides to a story says:

        The Orange County Register actually lists the candidates and issues they want you to vote for – and not on the editorial page. Instead of referring you to the election booklets which detail background on all the candidates and the pros and cons of each issue, or to do the same thing – balanced reporting – they actually have to nerve to lead the sheeple on to the conservative Republican viewpoint. It absolutely infuriates me and why any intelligent voter would want to allow themselves to be manipulated this way is beyond me!

        • gblock says:

          But for the candidates, the booklets just give a brief statement from each candidate who wants to give one. That’s better than nothing, but that means you find out what the candidates want you to find out about them.

          The booklets generally do a good job of describing the statewide propositions and sometimes local ones.

          • Two sides to a story says:

            Yes, the propositions are done well. And there’s always the internet to check up on the candidates.

            My dear (coff) mother used to tear the voting preference article from the OC Register and then fill in her mail-in ballot to match. *groan*. There were times when I wished I could toss it in the trash. : /

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