The use of a questionable informant network by District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office in Orange County, California is continuing to cause concern as revelations surface that prosecutors have been withholding Brady material in numerous high-profile murder cases.  Law enforcement and prosecutors have been putting informants in jail cells with defendants or near defendants who are awaiting trial and then using their testimony, all the while withholding information relating to their informant’s credibility, criminal history, or incentives, such as a more lenient sentence.

Earlier this year, in the murder case of Scott Evans Dekraai not only was it revealed that the prosecution failed to disclose Brady material, they also violated two other rules:  to turn over impeachment material and to correct false testimony.

Last week after it was discovered that the state had suppressed “voluminous records” of Brady material in the case of Isaac John Palacios, who faced two gang-related murder charges,  Judge Patrick Donohue dismissed one of the murder charges and approved a plea deal for the second charge, sentencing Palacios to probation.

According to the Voice of Orange County, the prosecution used long-time informants in all the cases.

“The misconduct by the Palacios prosecution team that was identified in the Dekraai hearing undoubtedly was some of the worst violations of a defendant’s constitutional rights that we have seen,” said Scott Sanders, Dekraai’s lead defense attorney.  Confessions by others to the two murders were part of the withheld material.

Dekraai’s case was a death penalty case and Palacios faced life in prison, but after it was discovered that the prosecution was severely violating his constitutional rights and withholding important evidence, he served about four years in prison awaiting trial and was sentenced to 5 years probation (if he violates probation he will serve 15 years to life).

The informant’s testimony was barred by the judge leaving the prosecution with little to no evidence.

In yet another case, Joseph Martin Govey’s charges of attempted murder and solicitation of murder were dropped after his attorney demanded that the prosecution turn over all the information they had on their informant.

“It is part of a pattern in the District Attorney’s Office, whereby they are being unethical by not complying with the constitutionally mandated evidence discovery requirements,” said Govey’s defense attorney, Renee Garcia, “What is very disturbing is that the whole district attorney management team knows about this. They are behaving unethically. How corrupt can the office be?”

Govey’s attorney goes on to say that instead of fixing the violations, the prosecution “judge shops” to avoid scrutiny.  Court records show that the four informants in the Govey case are involved in multiple other prosecutions.

“If the other cases are given this information, it can open a can of worms, they don’t want to open,” said Garcia, referring to the possibility that the dispute over these disclosures could produce new evidentiary hearings.

In Govey’s case, the prosecution withheld the evidence for more than 400 days.  Scott Moxley of the OC Weekly summarizes Orange County’s actions as follows:

“Under attack all year by Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders, who’d revealed extensive government cheating in high-profile gang and murder cases, OCDA prosecutors have spent 2014 offering lame, ridiculous or downright dishonest explanations for not surrendering exculpatory evidence to their courtroom opponents.”

D.A. Rackauckas has offered no known public explanation for withholding so much information in several murder cases. The victims’ families in the Palacios case were “stunned and upset” about the plea deal.

The Palacios, Dekraai, and Govey cases are just three examples of how important it is for prosecutors to follow the rules and seek the truth rather than do what ever it takes to win.

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