U.S. Justice Department Launches Investigation Into O.C. District Attorney’s Office Over Jailhouse Informants

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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)

U.S. Justice Department officials have launched an investigation into whether the Orange County district attorney’s office has routinely denied accused criminals fair trials by using jailhouse informants to secretly gather evidence.

The undisclosed role of snitches in several high-profile cases has roiled the county’s criminal justice system and raised questions about the conduct of prosecutors and sheriff’s jailers. Earlier this year, a panel established by Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas released a highly critical report saying a “failure of leadership” in his office led to the scandal.

Justice officials announced the investigation Thursday, saying the inquiry would scrutinize whether changes are needed to the long-running practice of deploying informants to surreptitiously extract information from defendants.

Investigators will search for patterns of widespread violations of the Constitution’s 6th Amendment — namely whether defendants were denied their right not to be questioned without their attorney present. They will look as well at whether prosecutors have adhered to strict rules that require them to disclose evidence that is favorable to defendants.

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