The American Civil Liberties Union was joined by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP today to announce a new lawsuit they've filed against Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and O.C. Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. They say the defendants have openly violated the U.S. Constitution, and California state laws with a secret jailhouse informant operation.
According to the complaint, for more than thirty years, departments in Orange County have recruited and placed informants in jail cells with defendants to try and extract incriminating information in exchange for payments and reductions in the informant's sentence.
``Some informants use threats of violence, including threats of murder, to coerce confessions and other information,'' a statement from the plaintiffs read.
"By running this massive, underground jailhouse informant scheme, the district attorney's office and the sheriff's department are cheating Orange County out of justice,'' added Brendan Hamme, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.
``They have won countless convictions based on unreliable information - the results of jailhouse informants' coercion of defendants that they passed off in court as solid, sound, and legal. Hiding the facts of the coercion from the defense is just one of the many ways they broke the law and endangered justice.''
The scheme first came to light four years ago in a criminal case. Since then, at least 18 defendants in Orange County have been able to demonstrate that the departments' informants were illegally involved in their cases and have won sentence reductions or dismissals.
The O.C. Sheriff tweeted a response out to the lawsuit Wednesday morning.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department has cooperated fully with the CA Attorney General and Department of Justice investigations into the use of informants in the OC Jail. Regarding the lawsuit filed today by the ACLU, @OCSD does not comment on pending litigation.
The scheme to place informants in cells with defendants has existed since the 1980s. The OC D.A. and the Sheriff's office have denied the program existed, at times under oath.