Orange County DA's Office (Along With 250 Prosecutors) Kicked Off Murder Case For 'Widespread Corruption'
from the your-rights-end-where-our-misconduct-begins dept
Nothing says you’ve deeply screwed up like having you and every single one of your 250 prosecutors disqualified from a case.
In a stinging rebuke, a criminal court judge removed the Orange County district attorney’s office from one of its highest-profile murder cases, saying prosecutors had violated mass shooter Scott Dekraai’s rights by repeatedly failing to turn over important evidence.
“Certain aspects of the district attorney’s performance in this case might be described as a comedy of errors but for the fact that it has been so sadly deficient,” Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals wrote in his ruling. “There is nothing funny about that.”
An open-and-shut case involving the murder of eight people now is anything but. According to information pried loose by the public defenders assigned to Scott Dekraai’s defense, prosecutors have partnered with law enforcement to place informants near charged suspects being held while awaiting trial in order to elicit confessions or admissions of other criminal activity, in exchange for pay, better treatment, etc.
The booting of the Orange County DA’s office follows a 500+ page filing by the public defenders, more than half of which details similar jailhouse operations and a multitude of Brady violations committed by the same office over the past several years. This previously-withheld information — much of it coming from a jailhouse computer log known as TRED — is dismantling other “successful” prosecutions. Prosecutors have hid the existence of this database, as well as its contents, from defense teams and judges for most of 25 years.
Now, it’s all falling apart. The defense team that uncovered this misconduct aren’t hoping to get their client’s case thrown out. But they are seeking to take the death penalty off the table. (The judge has not done so, despite his disqualifying the DA’s office.) Dekraai killed eight people in broad daylight in front of witnesses, so there was never any doubt he committed the crimes he’s charged with. But what happened behind bars while he awaited trial was illegal. The real point of this effort is to level the playing field going forward. These defense lawyers aren’t looking to score a “win,” per se, but rather seeking to have a fighting chance when defending the accused.
Take a long look at what’s been done here. A defense team — all public defenders — spent a year going through 60,000 pages of documents. Some lawyers, perhaps far too many, would have let a hopeless case like Dekraai’s run its course and put more effort into those deemed a bit more “winnable.” But this team didn’t, and now the ugliness of Orange County law enforcement is on full display.
On the other end, there have been no announcements of pending investigations or punishments for those involved in this wrongdoing. No prosecutor, jailer or sheriff’s department officers have faced anything more than potential embarrassment for these deeds. The sheriff’s office has “admitted” that “mistakes were made. The prosecutors’ office hasn’t expressed an interest in punishing the jailers who worked with law enforcement to pay jailhouse snitches to illegally record conversations with accused suspects. But the DA’s office feels someone should pay the price for the office’s misconduct — and that person should be the judge who kicked it to the curb.
Since February 2014, the district attorney’s office has asked to disqualify [Judge] Goethals — a former homicide prosecutor and defense attorney — in 57 cases, according to court records.
In 2011, records show, prosecutors made disqualification requests against Goethals just three times. In 2012, zero times. In 2013, only twice.
The office doesn’t want to take its prosecutions to a forum where its integrity will be (rightly) questioned. So, it’s just going to route around Goethals and hope that other judges haven’t been following recent developments. In the meantime, it’s going to be putting more man-hours on cases it thought it had already closed — even the “easy wins” that just weren’t “easy” enough. The ingrained behavior of the prosecution side is costing it convictions it could have secured simply by playing by the rules. But when you’re used to cheating, you do it even when you don’t have to.