Pervasive Misconduct Revealed in Orange County, CA District Attorney's Office

Posted by Sean P. CecilMay 29, 20150 Comments

Prosecutors are burdened with heightened expectations regarding ethical standards, and to pursue justice above all else. However, they do not always fulfill our expectations. And it is not always the case that when prosecutorial misconduct is exposed it is the work of "a few bad apples." In Orange County, CA, a judge has disqualified the entire prosecutor's office from a case after a public defender revealed collusion between the prosecutor's office and the local sheriffs to conceal exculpatory information, including but not limited to information that would severely damage the credibility of witnesses upon which the government relied in high profile cases. Slate has published a thorough accounting of the case, as well as the judge's order, which found, among other things, that:

“It is now apparent that the discovery situation in this case is far worse than the court previously realized. In fact, a wealth of potentially relevant discovery material—an entire computerized data base built and maintained by the Orange County Sheriff over the course of many years which is a repository for information related directly to the very issues that this court was examining as a result of the defendant's motion—remained secret, despite numerous specific discovery orders issued by this court, until long after the initial evidentiary hearing in this case was concluded and rulings were made.”

Unfortunately, Orange County is not alone, as revealed in a 70+ page whistleblower complaint filed by Pierce County, Washington senior deputy prosecutor Steve Merrival earlier this month. Pierce County prosecutors have seen several convictions reversed in the past few months as a result of their own misconduct, and according to Mr. Merrival's complaint, the problem is systemic rather than the work of a few bad apples. 

Prosecutors receive the benefit of public trust, and are enormously powerful players in the american criminal justice system. It is easy for the general public to be dismissive of the odd revelation of misconduct as justified to get the "bad guys," but this Faustian bargain repeatedly ensnares the innocent and denies the guilty of due process that might lead to important mitigating information.