Up to 9,000 pieces of evidence may be missing in Orange County, according to Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders. The missing evidence includes photos, videos, cash, and drugs that could be crucial in determining an accused person's guilt or innocence, and the Orange County public defenders office wants answers. They have also suggested that prosecutors helped cover up the missing evidence crisis for law enforcement. Here's an overview of the key parts of this story.
Investigations and Audits Kept Secret
Two years ago the Orange County Sheriff's Department conducted an internal investigation and found that more than 70% of deputies did not turn in evidence collected from crime scenes at the end of their shifts as they are required to do. Twenty-seven percent of the deputies held on to evidence for more than 31 days, and some never submitted any evidence at all. This audit triggered another internal audit, which found that 47% of reports that were supposed to include evidence did not.
The auditors found that “cultural idleness” had led to the evidence crisis. The results could include questioning the authenticity of evidence and force some adjudicated cases to be reopened. In some cases, people who were convicted using tainted evidence may be able to have their conviction overturned.
The findings of these investigations were kept secret until mid-November 2019 when the Orange County Register was about to break the story. It was only then that the Orange County Sheriff's Department told county supervisors about the investigations and findings.
Assistant Public Defender Sanders said,
Of course, they're going to want to minimize the impact because the truth is they have no idea how many cases this affects.
District Attorney's Office Also Kept in the Dark
According to District Attorney Todd Spitzer, his office was also not told of the audits and the scope of how many cases could be affected, and he says that two requests from his office have been ignored by the sheriff's department. But Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes says he notified Spitzer's office of the audit in early 2018, and now Assistant Public Defender Sanders says it is hard to believe that the district attorney's office didn't know about the audits.
Sanders noted that under Spitzer's predecessor, Tony Rackauckas, there was a history of ignoring questionable behavior by the sheriff's department, including a time when they failed to disclose they were misusing jail informants in violation of inmate's rights.
Orange County Sheriff's Department's Defense
Barnes claims that the “delay” in submitting evidence is a result of deputies submitting digital evidence to a crime lab first before the evidence is then sent to the property and evidence room. Barnes also said that evidence has not been mishandled. He also noted that because of the audits, four deputies have been fired, seven were disciplined, and investigations are still ongoing.
Sigal Law Group
This all just goes to show why it is extremely important to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney right away if you have been charged with a crime. Law enforcement is not perfect, and their mistakes may be the difference between you going to jail or being exonerated. Call the Sigal Law Group at 818-325-0570 or fill out our contact form today.