ACLU Files Suit Over OC Jailhouse Informant Program

The American Civil Liberties Union, along with its Southern California chapter, filed a lawsuit against Orange County Wednesday alleging that a top-secret jailhouse informant program has been operating in county jails and violating the constitutional rights of criminal defendants for more than three decades.

Controversy over Orange County’s jailhouse informant program has been churning for four years and has already resulted in dismissals of high-profile criminal cases. Now, the ACLU is asking the court to force Orange County’s agencies to comply with the law. It also wants the DA ordered to turn over all information regarding its informants and to identify any and all cases in which jail informants played a role. It is asking for all affected defendants to be notified of their rights to relief. And finally, it is asking for the appointment of a monitor to ensure compliance.

Below is an excerpt of the lawsuit, which is available in its entirety here.

The Huffington Post also has a summary of the case.

For well over thirty years, the OCSD—currently led by Defendant/Respondent Sandra Hutchens—has operated and continues to operate a secret jailhouse informant program with the full knowledge and participation of the OCDA—currently led by Defendant/Respondent Tony Rackauckas. Large numbers of “professional” informants, working at the behest of both agencies, have interrogated criminal defendants in violation of those defendants’ right to an attorney.

Informants also violated criminal defendants’ due process rights by threatening violence to obtain the information they wanted. Some went as far as telling defendants they had been “greenlit”—meaning that the prisoner was on a hit list to be assaulted or even executed on sight, a fate they could only avoid by confessing to their involvement in the crime. In some cases, the choice was clear: confess or die.

Informants were paid handsomely—hundreds of thousands of dollars, in some cases—and often given time off their own sentences in exchange for unlawfully collecting this information. 5. To conceal the arrangement, OCSD sheriffs have repeatedly lied under oath about the program’s existence and participants. The OCDA also has routinely suppressed or failed to request evidence that could expose the constitutional violations. Such evidence, including at least three separate informant-related databases that have come to light via discovery in recent Orange County criminal cases, plainly is favorable to criminal defendants who have interacted with these informants, and the OCDA’s refusal to produce it violates the United States and California Constitutions. The OCDA’s policy, practice, and custom of withholding such evidence also violates California’s mandate that all evidence be produced 30 days in advance of trial.