National Review

by Kevin D. Williamson
May 31, 2015 4:00 AM
@kevinNR

The GOP should turn its attention to prosecutorial misconduct.

As the old Vulcan proverb has it, “Only Nixon can go to China.” And only Nixon’s political heirs can fix the persistent — and terrifying — problems that continue to plague this country’s law-enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices.

Exhibit A: Orange County, California.

The sunny Southern California county with a population surpassing that of nearly half the states has a Republican district attorney, Tony Rackauckas, and a big problem on its hands: Its entire prosecutorial apparatus — all 250 lawyers in the district attorney’s office — have been disqualified from participation in a high-profile capital-murder case following revelations that the office colluded with the Orange County sheriff’s department to systematically suppress potentially exculpatory evidence in at least three dozen cases, committing what legal scholars have characterized as perjury and obstruction of justice in the process.

One of the questions involves a secret database of jail records related to confessions obtained via informants. Sheriff’s officers denied the database even existed, and their deception was abetted by prosecutors, leading an exasperated judge to issue an order noting that they “have either intentionally lied or willfully withheld material evidence from this court during the course of their various testimonies. For this court’s current purposes, one is as bad as the other.” The judge unsubtly recommends prosecution.

The database tracking inmates’ movements around the jail and the reason for those movements is significant, because Orange County law enforcement and prosecutors were in the habit of placing targeted suspects in proximity to criminal informants, who were rewarded with reduced sentences, favors, or money — payments in some instances ran into the six figures — for helping put together cases against jailed suspects. This practice is illegal. It is one thing if a suspect in custody speaks about his crimes and an informant comes forward to report that confession; it is another thing to operate a program under which the interrogation of suspects is effectively delegated to incarcerated felons who are secretly on the county’s payroll. The lack of present legal counsel is only the beginning of what is wrong with that practice.

To operate such a program is ipso facto a violation of the law and of ethical standards for jailers and prosecutors both. To lie about it is a serious crime. It may turn out to be a lucky thing after all that these defective prosecutions will probably open up a great many jail cells: Orange County is going to have to put these sheriff’s officers and prosecutors somewhere.

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