Recently, a Santa Ana man’s life sentence for a murder conviction was vacated in Orange County Superior Court due to the prosecution’s improper use of jailhouse informants. 1
Judge Gregg Prickett approved an agreement between prosecutors and defense attorneys to reverse the conviction of Leonel Vega, who was convicted in 2010 for murdering Giovanni Onofre in 2004. Prosecutors said Vega will be retried. 2
It is the first case overturned following the discovery of prosecutorial misconduct by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, but it could open the door for more convictions to be vacated.
Orange County District Attorney’s Office Engaged in Misuse of Jailhouse Informants
Vega’s appellate attorney said his client’s constitutional rights were violated when the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department used jailhouse informants to secure evidence against Vega and failed to turn over the evidence to his defense attorney. 3 According to defense attorneys, the conduct rose to the level of a Brady violation, thus warranting dismissal of criminal cases.
The decision came down after information was revealed during a hearing in the case of Scott Evans Dekraai, who plead guilty to murdering eight people in a Seal Beach hair salon. At the hearing, Oscar Moriel, who testified during Vega’s trial, said that he was hoping his use as an informant would lead to his early release. 4
During the hearing, it was discovered that Moriel handwrote more than 300 pages of notes but Vega’s defense attorneys only received four. Prosecutors also failed to disclose reports and recordings of Moriel discussing Vega’s case. 5
The hearing was sought by defense attorneys to prove allegations that prosecutors engaged in unconstitutional misuse of jailhouse informants and hid their work from defense attorneys.6
What is a Brady Violation?
In criminal cases, prosecutors are obligated to turn over all evidence and information to defense attorneys. The Brady rule, which stems from the landmark 1963 case Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, requires prosecutors to turn over evidence that shows the defendant’s innocence or evidence that can impeach a witness.
A prosecutor who suppresses or purposely tries to avoid giving favorable evidence to the defendant violates the due process rights of the defendant. Only evidence available to the prosecution or its officers must be disclosed. As such, any evidence that the prosecution does not have access to does not fall under the Brady rule.
How Does This Affect Your Case?
If you were convicted of a crime in Orange County based on testimony provided by jailhouse informants, you need to contact an experienced appeals attorney immediately. Like Vega, you may be able to get your conviction overturned due to misuse of jailhouse informants and violation of your Brady rights.
At Wallin & Klarich, our appeals attorneys can help you review all of your options and determine if your conviction can be vacated. Our skilled and knowledgeable attorneys have been successfully helping our clients appeal their criminal convictions for over 30 years. Let us help you with your case.
Call our offices today at (888) 280-6839 for a free telephone consultation. We will be there when you call.