DA Faces New Racial Bias Accusations as ACLU Analyzes Who Gets Prosecuted

As District Attorney Todd Spitzer faces accusations of racial bias from his own prosecutors, a local civil rights group says his office is continuing to perpetuate “vast racial disparities” in who gets prosecuted for crimes, as well as criminalizing mental illness and poverty.

Black people are much more likely to face criminal charges in Orange County than the rest of the population – and less likely to be offered diversion programs to avoid jail time – according to the ACLU.

The group cited figures that Black people are 2% of OC’s population but almost 6% of those who face criminal charges.

Among other measures, the ACLU is calling on DA Todd Spitzer to commit to “blind charging,” which bans prosecutors from seeing the race of potential defendants before making a decision on whether to charge them with a crime.

[Click here to read the ACLU’s summary of their reportthe report and their news release about it.]

Spitzer criticized the ACLU study – saying their report is part of a campaign that would endanger Orange County residents by weakening prosecutions in the style of LA and San Francisco.

“This report is the ACLU’s playbook for the failed policies of Los Angeles and San Francisco, resulting in soaring homicide and violent crime rates,” Spitzer said in a statement.

“The job of a District Attorney is to keep our communities safe. Orange County is the safest large county in California and I am proud of that fact,” he continued.

“I have been very clear that I will hold violent offenders accountable while demonstrating empathy and compassion by reducing recidivism and partnering with mental health services to provide those who are suffering from substance use disorders and mental illness treatment and a pathway out of the criminal justice system,” Spitzer said.

But the ACLU says that despite those promises, Spitzer’s office has been pursuing low-level charges just like his predecessor.

“Of the more than 259,000 charges made by the Orange County DAs office in 2017 and 2018, nearly 64% were the type of low-level offenses that should have been either considered decline-to-charge or diverted to community based programs, including those for addiction and mental illness,” the ACLU wrote.

“It is clear that the trend of filing low-level charges continues under the current OCDA’s direction.”

The ACLU cited what it called a troubling lack of transparency by Spitzer about who his office is prosecuting.

While the ACLU requested data on criminal charges, Spitzer would only provide numbers from his predecessor Tony Rackauckas’ time in office – despite Spitzer promising to be more open than Rackauckas – according to the ACLU.

“The lack of transparency with respect to charging data under the current OCDA’s tenure is particularly concerning, given that the current OCDA ran on a platform of transparency,” the ACLU wrote in a summary of their report.