New Law Ramps Up Penalties for California Prosecutors Who Tamper, Withhold Evidence

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Amid an ongoing controversy in the Orange County courthouse involving accusations of prosecutorial misconduct, a new law will ratchet up penalties for California prosecutors who tamper with evidence or hide exculpatory material from the defense.

The office of Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was removed from one of its most high-profile cases: the prosecution of mass murderer Scott Dekraai. (Credit: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)

The office of Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was removed from one of its most high-profile cases: the prosecution of mass murderer Scott Dekraai. (Credit: Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times)

Under the law, which was introduced by Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando) and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday, a prosecutor can receive up to three years in prison for altering or intentionally withholding evidence that defendants might use to exonerate themselves. Previously, those acts were considered misdemeanors.

“I hear so many stories about innocent people across California, and across the country, who have been wrongfully convicted,” Lopez said. “I just hope that when people think the rules don’t apply to them, they will think twice before they abuse their power.”

Lopez said the legislation was not specifically inspired by events in Orange County. However, the controversy surrounding the office of longtime Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas spurred the bill’s advocates and informed the debate on the state Senate floor.

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