Erenstoft Issues Open Letter to Standing Committee on Public Safety – California

March 1, 2016

As an ardent civil rights advocate, former prosecutor and defense attorney from Los Angeles, I know firsthand the difficulties involved in ensuring that police and prosecutors timely reveal evidence to defendants and their counselors.  When they don’t, innocent  people end up in jail and prosecutors skate free.

It is a fact that police investigators cordon-off crime scenes and initiate investigations with little public oversight and then craft criminal complaints and seek indictments. While I laud these efforts, I remain dubious of the commitment these officers place on the obligation to share the evidence they collect. Most notably, I remain concerned about the revelation of evidence which may have a tendency to undermine the prosecutors’ cases.

This bill seeks to inject some accountability into the system and ensure that due process rights are guaranteed. Presently, our Penal Code mandates the tender of evidence in the possession of law enforcement but provides no practical penalty when evidence is sequestered or falsified.

The prosecutorial mindset has unfortunately become an unspoken win-at-all-costs mentality. Deputy prosecutors are promoted and reap bonuses based on their “win/loss” records and the “seek justice” mantra and been . . . put on the mantle.

Press reports are replete with examples of prosecutorial malfeasance when it is discovered that defendants have been wrongfully convicted after it is revealed that their prosecutors manipulated the evidence, hid witness data, or failed to provide Brady evidence. The courts and our administrative agencies are hamstrung to do anything about the rabid nature of this quandary because oftentimes the evidence of this problem is sequestered. We need to change the incentive system and criminalize this behavior.

This bill attempts to inject an incentive for our law enforcement to play fair when addressing matters of such importance as human freedoms. The Sixth Amendment right to examine evidence and face one’s accuser requires consequences for would-be circumventors. This bill attempts to ensure due process because the aspirational “do justice” and “fair play” clichés are simply not working.

Vote “YES” on AB 1909.

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