More evidence emerged this month underscoring the win-at-all-costs mentality warping the Orange County district attorney's office (OCDA) when the California Court of Appeal ruled that a prosecutor tricked a pre-trial suspect into accepting a 23-year prison sentence by unethically hiding evidence that undermined the government's case.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Gary M. Logalbo told Juan Jose Ruiz's defense lawyer that law enforcement placed the defendant in a cell with two police informants posing as fellow arrestees who lulled him into making incriminating statements about a March 2013 shooting that resulted in no injuries.
But in violation of basic criminal justice system rules, Logalbo kept secret two key facts the defense was entitled to know: the snitches, Raymond Cuevas and Jose Paredes—career criminals OC Weekly exclusively featured in a Sept. 2014 cover story for their illegal tactics aiding police and dishonest character, are long-term Mexican Mafia gangsters and were paid $600 each for tricking Ruiz.
After he pleaded guilty but before formal sentencing, Ruiz learned from the Weekly's coverage that he'd been misled and asked Superior Court Judge James Edward Rogan to withdraw his guilty plea; Rogan, a former Republican congressman, refused, a decision appellate justices Richard Fybel, Kathleen O'Leary and Richard Aronson deemed unfair.
"[Ruiz] argues that the trial court should have allowed him to withdraw his guilty plea because information regarding the confidential informants who cooperated against him was exculpatory evidence that would have materially affected his decision to plead guilty," the appellate justices wrote in reversing the conviction and prison sentence. "The withholding of this favorable evidence made the defendant's waiver of his rights involuntary."
The panel ordered Rogan to schedule a new hearing to reconsider Ruiz's constitutional right to withdraw his plea.
The California Attorney General's office, which covered for local law enforcement's cheating in what's known nationally as the Orange County jailhouse informant scandal, conceded at least in this case that Tony Rackauckas' DA office committed an ethical blunder.
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Courts allow police to trick arrested suspects into making alleged jail confessions to snitches before they are formally charged with a crime and have legal representation.
Such a maneuver is called a Perkins operation, where the goal to make the new arrestee believe the people in his cell are also fellow arrestees who'd never work in league with cops.
It's unconstitutional, however, for government officials and their agents, like informants, to question pre-trial targets who've been charged by a judge and have a lawyer.
As court records and rulings prove, OCDA has repeatedly violated that basic standard over the decades.