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.

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