An ongoing scandal involving the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has led California lawmakers to pass a new law. Beginning at the start of 2017, prosecutors who falsify or withhold evidence in a criminal case could be charged with a felony.
So, what does this new law mean for you?
Felony Charges for Prosecutors Who Withhold Evidence
California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a law that will make it a felony for prosecutors in the state to tamper with or hide evidence that could disprove the guilt of a defendant. Any prosecutor who violates this law faces up to three years in state prison.
Altering or hiding exculpatory evidence was previously a crime, but it was only a misdemeanor, which carries significantly lesser penalties.
In addition, the California State Bar proposed a new ethical rule that requires criminal prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence in a timely manner. The California Supreme Court must approve this rule before it can go into effect. However, doing so would line the State Bar’s rules up with other states, so it is not expected to face opposition.
If it is adopted by the California Supreme Court, violating this ethical rule would result in state bar discipline. This means prosecutors who willfully fail to turn over evidence could face the suspension or revocation of their license to practice law.
Why Pass This Law Now?
Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando), who introduced the legislation, said the bill was drafted in an effort to reduce misconduct in criminal cases and prevent wrongful convictions. It was not a specific response to the events occurring in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, but Lopez acknowledged those events helped move the bill forward.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office was removed from the prosecution of alleged mass murderer Scott Dekraai in 2015. The judge who made this decision said it was due to the district attorney’s failure to turn over evidence, which the judge considered repeated violations of Dekraai’s rights.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has also recently faced additional allegations of violating the rights of defendants through the misuse of jailhouse informants.
How Does This Law Affect Me?
This new law is a big win that protects the rights of criminal defendants in California. While some unethical prosecutors may still attempt to violate the law and State Bar rules, being subject to felony charges should prevent many prosecutors from committing misconduct by withholding or falsifying evidence. Continue reading →