Did you have a bad cop on your case and a victim of police misconduct? A Pitchess motion is designed to find impeachment material to challenge the credibility of a police officer, based on their prior misconduct within the last five years.
In other words, it's an attempt to identify any pattern of police misconduct. All law enforcements officers are public servants paid by tax money. This means they can be a target for complaints from citizens for any misconduct.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm often hears from our clients who describe how a police officer unlawfully stopped them based on their appearance. They often feel racially profiled as the police officer incorrectly believed they were a gang banger, or just because they were driving through a bad neighborhood on the way home.
In some cases, our clients claim they were falsely accused and wrongfully arrested. It's typically difficult to prove the police officer is a “bad cop,” but defendant's can ask the judge to produce the officer's personnel file.
However, these types are complaints are not available to the general public. In order to obtain information about prior misconduct on a police officer, it will require a court order.
This could allow a defendant to find out if the police officer has a history of excessive force, racial profiling, falsifying information, unlawful police stops, planting evidence, among any other issues of misconduct. All law enforcements officers are public servants paid by tax money. This means they can be a target for complaints from citizens for any misconduct.
An example in Los Angeles County includes situations where someone was arrested for drug possession for sale after an undercover police officer claims he sold them to the defendant. However, the defendant claims he was not in possession of drugs and certainly did not purchase any from the police officer.
The defendant claims the officer is lying and planted the evidence. Therefore, his criminal defense lawyer files a Pitchess motion, which is a “good cause” affidavit claiming he did not purchase drugs and the police officer is lying.
This affidavit would describe that information in the police officer's personnel file might show they have a history of lying and filing false police reports that could be useful to their defense.
The judge would then decide if the affidavit is sufficient to show “good cause” for disclosing the officer's record. If you have been arrested and believe you are a victim of police misconduct, you may have good cause for a Pitchess motion.
Contact the Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at Eisner Gorin LLP. Our attorneys will need to thoroughly review your situation in order determine your legal options and potential pretrial motions. Now that we have covered a general overview of a California Pitchess motion, let's take a closer look at the legal language below.
Legal Description of a Pitchess Motion
In a Los Angeles County criminal case, you will need to obtain a court order to review the complaints of a police officer.
Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will typically file a Pitchess motion as part of the pretrial process when we have reason to believe our client was the victim of misconduct by the police.
A “Pitchess Motion” was named after the California landmark case Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531, where the California Supreme Court made such disclosures permissible.
After our law firm submits the motion, a court hearing will be held in order to determine if we alleged sufficient factual basis for misconduct by the police officer.
If the court agrees, the motion will be granted and the judge will conduct a review of the police officer's personnel file.
If there are complaints in their file, the judge will have to determine which specific complaints to hand over to our attorneys that are relevant to our allegations of misconduct.
For example, if we make allegations the officer falsified probable cause to search your vehicle, then any similar complaints from other citizens would be relevant to our probable cause misconduct claim. See related: Arrested by Dishonest Cop?
Types of Misconduct for a Pitchess Motion
There are a wide range of allegations our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys will use in order to determine the basis of a Pitchess motion. These include:
- Fabrication of probable cause;
- Unlawful arrest or traffic stops;
- Sexual harassment;
- Excessive force;
- Racial profiling;
- Falsified police reports;
- Coercing confessions;
- Evidence tampering.
If you have a reasonable belief the police officers that were involved in your arrest have engaged in any type of misconduct above, and the misconduct had a direct impact on your criminal charges, a Pitchess motion could potentially reveal proof the police officers have a track record of this type of behavior.
If you need more information about types of police misconduct that would justify the filing of a Pitchess motion, contact our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys.
How to File a Pitchess Motion
As stated above, a Pitchess motion is filed during the Los Angeles County criminal court pretrial proceedings. This means a judge will act on your motion before your jury trial.
Our lawyers could even file a Pitchess motion before your preliminary hearing, but the court won't typically take any action until after it's concluded. Under California law, our criminal attorneys must file the Pitchess motion in writing.
Evidence Code 1043 describes that the motion must include the following information:
- The criminal court case, defendant, police officer, and the agency with custody of the records;
- Description of the type of records being sought;
- Affidavit showing “good cause” for revealing the records, and
- Proof the defendant notified the agency that has the records of the motion.
It's important to note that the affidavit showing “good cause” to disclose the police officer's record is the most critical part of the Pitchess motion.
The affidavit has to show that a fact based scenario supports allegations of police officer misconduct in your case, and the exact reasons why that misconduct is relevant to your case.
The Pitchess motion has to be personally served on the government agency 16 court days before the actual hearing.
It should be noted the Los Angeles County prosecutor does not have to see the entire motion, just that the hearing will occur. This is because they don't oppose the motion, rather it's the police department.
If the “good cause” affidavit and the Pitchess motion meet the requirements listed above, the motion is granted and will move to the next step in the process. Contact our Los Angeles criminal defense law firm for more information of filing a Pitchess motion. See related: Brady Motion.
In Camera Hearings on a Pitchess Motion
“In camera” simply means the hearing will off the record, in private, rather than in open court. After judge “grants” the motion, the judge will determine whether the information in the police officer's personnel file is relevant to claims it's important for your defense. The judge will only reveal information that is relevant to your motion.
There are specific types of information in the officer's file that can't be disclosed, including
- (1) Complaint's against the officer that occurred over 5 years before the alleged misconduct in your case;
- (2) Personal opinions of other officer's who investigated citizen's complaints against the officer, and;
- (3) Irrelevant facts so remote that they would not provide any benefit for releasing them.
If the judge finds there are complaints against the police officer in their personnel file that are relevant to your case, they will order the complaints to be turned over to your criminal defense lawyer.
Your attorney will receive a list of individuals with their contact information, as well as the subject of their complaint.
Your lawyer will then have the ability to contact these people for an interview about the details of their case and could even use them as a witness.
This could prove very useful in impeaching the officer or showing common themes, such as excessive force or falsifying a police report.
If the judge declines to even have an in camera hearing, you can use the appeals process to appeal the decision.
Contact our Los Angeles Criminal Attorneys
If you have been arrested and believe there was misconduct by the arresting police officer, you need to contact the Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at Eisner Gorin LLP.
We will closely review the details of your case in order to determine if filing a Pitchess motion could prove beneficial in your defense.