Orange County Informant Scandal: Over 50 Criminal Cases Affected, Public Defender Reveals

SANTA ANA, Calif. — The magnitude of the legal fallout resulting from Orange County's illicit use of jailhouse informants has expanded significantly, with 57 major criminal cases now in question, according to the California public defender who initially exposed the scandal.

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders' recent analysis highlights that 35 homicide cases and 22 serious felony cases have seen convictions overturned, charges dropped, and sentences dramatically reduced, as reported by the Orange County Register on Tuesday.

"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 conveyed to the newspaper. The analysis drew in part from data provided by the district attorney's office.

Beginning in 2014 when Sanders first raised concerns, both state and federal investigators confirmed that Orange County prosecutors and law enforcement officials systematically violated the constitutional rights of criminal defendants through the improper use of jailhouse informants.

Some of these informants received as much as $1,500 per case to extract confessions from targeted inmates, many of whom had a constitutional right not to be interrogated by informants since they had already been charged and obtained legal representation.

In some instances, informants resorted to threats of violence to compel their subjects to provide information, a practice explicitly prohibited by law. Additionally, prosecutors neglected to disclose the involvement of informants and their backgrounds to defense attorneys.

All the affected cases occurred during the tenure of former District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. Under the current DA, Todd Spitzer, the use of informants is more rigorously regulated.

Spitzer responded to the revelations, noting that much of Sanders' analysis had previously been compiled by the DA's office and shared with the U.S. Department of Justice. He stated, "We have a team of prosecutors tasked with reviewing each one of these cases and ensuring all of our discovery obligations have been met, and to take any further remedial action, if necessary." He also mentioned that the Orange County District Attorney's Office has expanded its Conviction Integrity Unit's role by adopting a policy to scrutinize any claims of wrongful convictions.

While authorities can utilize jailhouse informants, they are prohibited from deliberately extracting information from defendants once they are legally represented. Moreover, prosecutors are obligated to provide defense attorneys with any evidence that could be deemed favorable to their clients.