The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a reorganization in which the Orange County Crime Lab will be overseen by the Sheriff’s Department, stripping the District Attorney’s joint authority of the agency.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer and Sheriff Don Barnes jointly asked the board to return the management of the crime lab back to its original structure before the District Attorney was put in charge of it in 2008, along with sheriff and county chief executive office.
Spitzer, a former county supervisor, has long criticized the District Attorney’s Office’s joint oversight of the crime lab.
Spitzer noted that Barnes’ office “is responsible for the collection and accumulation of evidence and making sure there is a strong chain of custody… The District Attorney, in my opinion, should not be in that business so … I’m encouraging the board to support its original structure when it was started a decade ago.”
Barnes told the supervisors “it is an industry best practice” to have a police agency oversee the collection and analysis of evidence.
“It is the responsibility for the District Attorney to take that evidence and prosecute” crimes, Barnes said.
Supervisor Don Wagner pointed out it is “somewhat unusual for any government official to give up power and it’s being done here for the right reason … for the most important principle of separation of powers.”
Supervisor Andrew Do noted that the board moved to have the CEO, sheriff and District Attorney oversee the crime lab in 2008 because “there was a backlog at that time of 1,800 cases” and there was “friction” between the sheriff and prosecutors regarding the crime lab.
“What if the situation arises again and the District Attorney’s Office feels like the crime lab isn’t being run properly?” Do asked Spitzer. “Is there a mechanism by which that could be addressed?”
Spitzer said the board could always change the crime lab’s management structure back again.
“You’re the referees in this county. You call balls and strikes,” Spitzer said.
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