ACLU sues Orange County DA, sheriff over misuse of jail informants

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and the law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP Wednesday filed a lawsuit against Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, saying the defendants have conducted a secret jailhouse informant operation in violation of the U.S. Constitution, California Constitution, and California state laws.

For more than 30 years, the departments have recruited and placed informants in jail cells with defendants, paying and rewarding informants with sentence reductions for extracting incriminating information from the defendants without their lawyers present, the plaintiffs said in a statement.

"Some informants use threats of violence, including threats of murder, to coerce confessions and other information,'' it said.

"By running this massive, underground jailhouse informant scheme, the district attorney's office and the sheriff's department are cheating Orange County out of justice,'' added Brendan Hamme, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.

"They have won countless convictions based on unreliable information -- the results of jailhouse informants' coercion of defendants that they passed off in court as solid, sound, and legal. Hiding the facts of the coercion from the defense is just one of the many ways they broke the law and endangered justice.''

The scheme has existed at least since the 1980s and was first exposed in a criminal case four years ago. Since then, the defendants in at least 18 cases in Orange County have shown that the departments' jailhouse informants were illegally involved in their cases and won sentence reductions or

The district attorney's office and sheriff's department have consistently denied the existence of the jailhouse operation, sometimes under oath.

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