The Orange County Sheriff’s Office and other Southern California law enforcement agencies have been hiring gang members to obtain confessions from suspects in detention. The practice, unfortunately, is lawful and widespread throughout the United States. But in this case, the Orange County police and prosecutors allegedly stood by as their gang member informants used death threats to obtain some confessions. This type of coerced confession is unconstitutional and is now the subject of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

Many criminal cases are won – or lost – during the pretrial stage. Suspects are at their most vulnerable, usually shaken by the arrest experience and without the benefit of legal representation. The police know this is the best time to extract illegal jailhouse confessions, or incriminating statements from suspects. For this reason, you should always exercise your right to remain silent and request the assistance of a Los Angeles criminal appeals lawyer for help with your case. To schedule a free consultation with an attorney or staff member at Spolin Law, contact us today at (310) 424-5816.

Police Obtained Confessions Through Threats of Violence

First exposed by Assistant Orange County Public Defender Scott Sanders, the practice of using gang members to obtain confessions in the Los Angeles area has been described at length in the Orange County Weekly, the Orange County Register, and a report on authored by former Los Angeles Times staff writer Ted Rohrlich.

Six Southern California counties hired two gang members to extract confessions in around 300 undercover jail operations between 2010 and 2016. The authorities gave the informants preferential treatment in jail, paid them over $300,000, and then released them into a witness protection program. Every so often, they were given wires and placed in the same cells as criminal suspects. The recordings helped with the prosecution of several hard-to-solve murder cases, most of which involved street gangs.

As Mexican Mafia shot callers, the informants knew that killings had to be carried out in a specific way. For example, drive-by shootings were forbidden, and corrections officers were no longer permissible targets. The informants would tell suspects that their killings had broken gang rules, and that gang leaders had added them to the “green list” for assassination. Under fear of death, the suspect would then explain to the informants how the killings had been “legally” carried out under gang rules — thus unknowingly confessing their crime to the police.

Orange County Sheriff’s Office May Have Broken the Law

When the police arrest you, you become a suspect. As such, you benefit from the right to be free of coercion. This is why police officers must give you a Miranda warning informing you that you have the right to remain silent, and that anything you say can be used against you. This warning often encourages suspects to stop talking. For this reason, the police try as much as possible to question potential suspects before a Miranda warning has been given. One way is to have a consensual conversation with a person before they officially become a suspect. Another is to trick a suspect into willingly confessing once they are in custody.

The Supreme Court does not consider your rights to be violated when the police pose as an inmate to obtain a confession from you. In the 1990 case of Illinois v. Perkins, the court stated, “that coercive atmosphere is not present when an incarcerated person speaks freely to someone whom he believes to be a fellow inmate and whom he assumes is not an officer having official power over him.”

Southern California authorities stepped over the line, because their informants essentially used death threats against questioned suspects. The United States Constitution forbids the use or threats of violence to obtain confessions. For this reason, the ACLU has sued the Orange County Sheriff and Orange County District Attorney, claiming that “the threats these informants made and continue to make are plain, they are explicit, and they are unconstitutional.” But their civil rights case will succeed only if they can demonstrate that the authorities knew that their informants were using death threats.

Call Spolin Law for Help Today

When your rights are violated in pretrial detention, an appeals lawyer may be able to obtain the dismissal of your case. Alternatively, any evidence the police obtained through the violation of your rights may be removed from the prosecution’s case, making it unlikely that you will be convicted. If you or a family member was threatened into confessing, you need to act now to maximize your chances of a positive case outcome. Call Spolin Law today at (310) 424-5816, or reach out through the online form to schedule a free consultation of your case.