Published on: Monday, October 17, 2022

A jailhouse informant program in Orange County, California, violated the constitutional rights of criminal defendants because of jailers’ involvement, according to a long-awaited report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ press release available here).

The federal agency, which began investigating in 2016, issued a lengthy report detailing Orange County authorities' use of the informants from 2007 to 2016 and their failure to release information, as required by law, about incriminating statements gathered by the snitches to lawyers for the accused.

The report said there is “reasonable cause to believe” the sheriff’s department and district attorney’s office in Orange County, California, systematically violated defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to counsel and their 14th Amendment right to due process.

The Orange County program, which focused on defendants charged with homicide and gang crimes, operated from 2007 through 2016. Jailers placed informants next to targeted defendants after those defendants were charged with a crime and while they were represented by counsel, according to the report.

Informants were rewarded with leniency in the form of reduced charges or sentencing requests and were provided benefits that made their jail time easier. Those benefits could include special food, visits, phone calls and preferred housing assignments. Providing rewards to informants “further illuminates” the close relationship with law enforcement.

Prosecutors failed to seek out and disclose to the defense evidence that the defendants were questioned by informants in violation of their Sixth Amendment rights. Prosecutors also failed to disclose that the informants had a motive to lie or were unreliable people.