Prosecutors Can Now Face Felony Charges for Tampering with Evidence

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The nation watches Orange County courthouse as accusations of misconduct swirl. A new law was passed at the end of September to increase penalties for those who tamper with evidence or hide material from the defense. Previously considered a misdemeanor, those found guilty of the crime can now receive up to three years in prison for altering or withholding evidence that defendants could use in their claim for innocence.

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Reduce the Wrongfully Convicted

The law was introduced by Assemblywoman Patty Lopez who believes it will help to reduce the number of people wrongfully convicted. She is also backed by Governor Jerry Brown, who signed off the bill last month. She states, however, that despite the incidents in Orange County garnering widespread attention, her legislation was not created as a result of them.

The events surrounded the office of Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney of Orange County. The office drew attention in March 2015 after Orange County Superior Judge Thomas Goethals removed their ability to prosecute mass murderer Scott Dekraai. He believed that the prosecutors in office violated Dekraai’s rights by neglecting to hand over evidence to his defense. He conceded, however, that they did not willfully commit misconduct. The California attorney general’s office is appealing against Goethal’s ruling.

Ignoring the Rights of Inmates

Dekraai’s attorney Scott Sanders has also accused Orange County jailers of ignoring the rights of inmates for years by creating an illegal and well-hidden jailhouse informant program. Regardless of whether his statement is true or not, it has drawn countrywide attention, causing the breakdown of cases against many defendants. Rackauckas supported the bill to prosecute evidence tampering saying he “believes all prosecutors should follow the law.”

37 members of the state Senate voted on the bill, with only one no vote, by Senator John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) whose jurisdiction falls over most of Orange County. He said it was “just a tad too severe” asking for stricter penalties against prosecutors. He also pointed out his fear that Dekraai – convicted of murdering his ex-wife and seven others in 2011 – may avoid the death penalty because of the way prosecutors and jailers acted.

One person who agrees with the bill, Obie Anthony, 42, served 17 years in prison after being convicted of a murder outside a South LA brothel in 1995. He was released in 2011 when it was discovered that a pimp who was a key prosecution witness had been offered leniency in exchange for his testimony. Anthony now runs a non-profit called Exonerated Nation in Missouri.