If you are a regular reader of this blog you are undoubtedly familiar with the jailhouse snitch scandal that has rocked the Orange County District Attorney’s office. A Superior Court judge removed the D.A.’s office from the case of convicted serial killer Scott Dekraai due to allegations of violating his constitutional rights by illegally obtaining evidence from jailhouse informants, and failing to produce evidence after repeated requests from his lawyer.
A number of other investigations have since followed, revealing an appeared pattern of prosecutorial misconduct with the DA’s office. In the wake of these and other scandals around the state, California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber authored a new bill that imposes strict sanctions against prosecutors who withhold or suppress evidence in a case. The bill passed, and Governor Jerry Brown has signed it into law.
Zero Tolerance for Suppressed Evidence
The law amends California Penal Code section 1424.5 and section 6068.7 of the California Business and Professions Code, which is part of the State Bar Act. The State Bar Act empowers the State Bar of California to exercise authority over who can be licensed as an attorney in the state, including suspending or revoking licenses of attorneys who violate certain rules.
Under the new law, if a court finds that a prosecutor has deliberately and intentionally withheld relevant or material evidence that tends to cast doubt on a criminal defendant’s guilt, the court must report the violation to the State Bar for disciplinary proceedings if the court finds that the suppression of evidence was in bad faith, and led to a guilty verdict, a guilty plea, or a plea of nolo contendere (“no contest”). If the violation is discovered before the end of the trial, the court is required to report the violation to the State Bar if the suppressed evidence seriously limited the defendant’s ability to put on a defense to the charges.1
In addition, the law strengthens a judge’s ability to remove a prosecutor from a case and allows the court to disqualify the entire office of the district attorney. The defendant’s attorney can also file a motion to do the same if the court finds a violation occurred.
Will the New Law Clean Up the Justice System?
It is difficult to say that any law will cure a widespread problem in a single stroke, but this new law is a welcome improvement to our criminal justice system in California. The threat of disbarment is one that every attorney takes seriously because it can destroy their career in law. Now that courts are required to report suppression of evidence that shows a defendant is innocent, district attorneys will have a serious disincentive to take shortcuts in order to secure convictions.
Contact the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
If you are facing criminal charges, you should seek the help of an experienced and aggressive attorney as soon as possible. At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have over 30 years of experience fighting for the rights of criminal defendants. We work tirelessly to investigate all the available evidence, and keep a vigilant watch on district attorneys to make sure they are playing by the rules. We do this to give our clients the best possible chance of successfully winning their case. Let us help you, too.
With offices in Orange County, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, Victorville, West Covina, San Diego, Torrance and Sherman Oaks., there is a Wallin & Klarich attorney experienced in criminal defense near you, no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.
1. [See AB-1328 Criminal procedure: withholding of evidence, available at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB1328]↩