Latest California Criminal Case Limits Inquiry Into Police Records of Bad Cops

Thousands of decisions are handed down every year related to criminal appeals, this new case rules that when conducting a hearing into records pertaining to allegations of police misconduct, a trial court must examine the records itself; it may  not rely on the police clerk’s assessment of the relevence of the information   contained in the records.   In this case Police officers attempted to arrest appellant   for absconding from parole supervision. He tried to flee in his car, striking   one of the officers. Defendant was charged with provocative act murder and   assaulting police officers after police opened fire in response to his flight,   killing a passenger in the car, it was not clear whether the defendant was DUI.  Defendant filed two motions requesting information regarding   complaints against a number of officers for excessive force and dishonesty. The   court allowed access to some information as to several of the officers;   defendant sought review. The Justices found that  the trial court conducted several in camera hearings at which it   placed the custodian of records under oath and asked questions regarding the   content of the records. The court did not review the records unless the   custodian opined the record contained discoverable material. This was error. In   ruling on a Pitchess motion, the court should make a record of the   files it reviewed to permit appellate review, which did not occur here,   resulting in an inadequate record of the documents produced. According to a Burbank DUI Attorneys opinion, a trial court may not abdicate its responsibility to personally review the files and determine whether there is discoverable material. The criminal case was sent back to the original Judge for further review.

In this particular case the Defendant showed good cause for the   trial court to conduct an in camera review of the officer’s personnel records   for information related to dishonesty. A defendant seeking police   personnel records must show good cause, which requires a nexus between the   information and his proposed defense, including impeaching the officer’s version   of events. Defendant met this threshold as to information regarding reports   related to dishonesty as to four of the officers because his knowledge whether   the men who approached his car were police could impact whether he intentionally   assaulted/provoked them. However, there was no logical link between past   complaints of use of excessive force and the proposed defense. The Court held that there was no link   between any such complaints and any defense to the assault charges under the   circumstances of this case.

U.S. Supreme Court Throws Out DUI Conviction

Occasionally the Supreme Court agrees to hear a DUI case.  Although they hear the case, the decision usually goes against the defendant, this is an exception to that rule.  In this case the defendant, McNeely was stopped by a police officer for speeding and weaving across the centerline. After declining to take a breath test to measure his blood alcohol in the field, he was taken to a hospital where a blood sample, revealing blood alcohol levels above the legal limit, was taken against his will.   The officer did not obtain a search warrant prior to the taking of the sample and McNeely did not agree to blood draw. The trial court suppressed the results of the   blood test, ruling that the search violated the accused  Fourth Amendment rights,  and the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed.   surprisingly, the US Supreme Court agreed.   The Court ruled, absent exigent circumstances,   search warrants are required before a compelled blood sample may be taken for use as evidence in a DUI criminal investigation. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the state’s position that the natural dissipation of alcohol constitutes an exigent circumstance justifying a per se rule allowing the taking of a sample  without a warrant or consent. Instead the Justices ruled that the matter be determined on  a case-by-case assessment of the totality of the circumstances, in which the dissipation element is a factor in evaluating whether an exigency exists to obtain a forced blood draw from a DUI suspect.

Court Throws Out Drug Conviction Due to Miranda Rights Violation

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Miranda vs. Arizona stood for the principle that the government had to advise you of your rights prior to questioning you about a criminal offense.  The Courts have gone back and forth on the viability of the Miranda rule in this day and age.  Recently, a criminal court threw out a drug case where the cops violated the suspect’s miranda rights, here are the facts:  Defendant was convicted of a federal drug offense  after the trial court denied his motion to suppress statements he gave to FBI  agents during a custodial interrogation. The Court Reversed. According to the record in the case, Barnes was told to  attend a meeting by his parole officer, at which FBI agents confronted him with  evidence of drug trafficking before giving him Miranda warnings. The  confrontation occurred inside a police dominated, confined environment and went on for two hours. the defendant would not have felt free to leave and was therefore in official police  custody. The delay in providing Miranda warnings was a prohibited   “two-step” interrogation. The mid-interrogation warnings, given after Barnes   incriminated himself, were ineffective to ameliorate the delay in providing them. Barnes’ confession went to the heart of the prosecution case; therefore the error was not harmless, requiring reversal, case dismissed!

The Judge obviously scrutinized the government’s claim that the FBI followed the proper procedures, however, their efforts fell short to ensure that the accused fifth amendment rights were protected. It is good to see that some Courts have the guts to dismiss a case when the police violate the rules. If you or someone you know has a pending criminal case in Long Beach California, call a lawyer to get an evaluation of the offense to determine whether the police may have violated your rights, Matthew Ruff is a Criminal Lawyer in Long Beach who can help.