SAN FERNANDO – A new law signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown will make it a felony for prosecutors to withhold from the defense or falsify evidence in a case.
The bill AB 1909 was championed and authored by Rep. Patty Lopez of the 39th Assembly District of California.
“What it tries to help is the people that have been given wrong sentences,” Lopez told the Northern California Record. “I hope this bill can help restore people’s faith in the criminal justice system and the ability to know the difference between right and wrong.”
With the new law, prosecutors will be charged with a felony and potentially serve prison time if they withhold evidence or falsify it in any way for any reason. Sentencing could be as much as three years in prison, depending upon the severity of the case.
Prior to the enactment of the law, withholding or falsifying evidence was a misdemeanor. With the new law, prosecutors will have a stronger penalty that Lopez hopes will act as a deterrent.
“I believe it will lead to fairness in the trials and it will prevent people from using their power in court,” Lopez said. “I feel like this bill will make sure that people, before they hold any evidence, will think twice. This is really serious. Sometimes people are staying in jail and they spend more than 10, 20 and 30 years when they know they’re innocent but they don't have all the evidence.”
The law comes in light of antics that occurred in Orange County that had district attorney Tony Rackauckas’ office removed from the high-profile murder case of Scott Dekraai. The case involving Dekraai, who was accused of murdering his wife and seven others, had instances when the prosecutor failed to turn over evidence to the defense. While the judge found this wasn’t “willful misconduct” by the prosecutors, the case gained nationwide attention and helped give a voice to bill AB1909.
“I believe we have so many cases not being conducted in the right way for the people,” Lopez said. “For some reason, they don’t get the right trial and this will help the prosecutors do right for the people.
The bill was voted on by the Senate in a 36-1 vote with Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) as the only opposing vote. Moorlach’s district covers part of Orange County where the Dekraai case was tried.
The new law is designed to help those that are being prosecuted have a fair go in court, Lopez said.
“Sometimes people have a lot of power and they overuse that to the people that don’t have the money or the resource to defend themselves. With AB 1909, there is hope that those that are innocent won’t find themselves behind bars because evidence that could have exonerated them has been withheld or falsified by the prosecutor to help win a case," she said.