Prosecutors May Access Police Disciplinary Records

It is well settled that the prosecution in a criminal case has duty to disclose exculpatory information to the defense. That includes acts of a police officer that may constitute moral turpitude. In this recent appeals court case, the justices ruled the DA has a much easier job getting that information in order to meet their constitutional burden in a criminal case.

Here are the facts. During prosecution of a domestic violence case, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) informed the prosecutor that several officer witnesses had material in their personnel files that may be subject to a Brady disclosure duty. The prosecution motioned the trial court under Evidence Code sections 1043 and 1045 to conduct the initial Brady materiality review of the officers’ files, arguing that Penal Code section 832.7, subdivision (a) did not allow it direct access to the files. In response, the defense requested that the trial court either conduct the requested Brady review, or allow the prosecution to directly access the officers’ files. The trial court found the prosecution had made an insufficient showing of Brady materiality for it to review the files and ordered that the prosecution be given direct access to the files. The prosecutor and SFPD petitioned to vacate the trial court’s order.

Held: Mandate denied on this issue. The prosecution has a duty to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, including evidence known only to the police. Penal Code section 832.7, subdivision (a), part of the codification of Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531 (upholding defendants’ right to discover misconduct complaints in police personnel files), provides that police personnel files are confidential and may be disclosed in a criminal proceeding only pursuant to a section 1043 motion. In complying with Brady there are two stages: identification and disclosure. Section 832.7 does not prohibit prosecutorial access to police files during the identification stage—it specifies procedures for the disclosure stage. Prosecution inspection of police personnel files for a Brady review is not a breach of confidentiality under section 832.7 (disagreeing with People v. Gutierrez (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 1463 and Abatti v. Superior Court (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 39). This interpretation of section 832.7 avoids serious constitutional questions. Courtesy CCAP.

About thetorranceattorney

Matthew Ruff is a Torrance criminal defense attorney located near the 405 freeway on Crenshaw Blvd. Focusing on DUI and serious criminal cases for over twenty years. In addition to criminal cases, Matthew also defends clients at the DMV.
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