Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

Police Misconduct: Using a Pitchess Motion in Criminal Defense - Penal Code Section 1043

Posted on: April 7, 2008 at 4:11 p.m.

A successful Pitchess Motion may at times be a powerful tool for defense counsel.

Defendants are entitled to relevant "discovery," ie. police reports and witness interviews, contained in the personnel files of an arresting officer. Typically, Los Angeles criminal attorneys file this motion before the preliminary hearing in cases where there are allegations made against arresting police officers of racial discrimination, excessive force, or some other misconduct which is relevant to the criminal case.

Prior misconduct evidence can then be used to impeach the officers in the current case.

Tagged as: california criminal laws, police misconduct


Lawrence Paul Moten on September 8, 2009 at 2:57 p.m. wrote:

My case is one that usually never meet the light of day because it present the true color of our government and its any means policies for the Military/Government and VA which was set up maintain the cover up of the Military. In the mid and late 1970s, the military was, and probably still is today, using the illegal the ends justify the means policy for recruiting for the military. A strategy that said lies, underhanded chicanery and illegal acts were justified as long as the Military Recruiters could meet their monthly enlistment quota which I adamantly believe is still going on today. It seems to me that the reason the Military/Government can get away with system which is truly illegal is because we allow them to setup their own system, and unfortunately no one watching them to hold them accountable for their actions. In late January of 1978, I was unknowingly caught in a recruiting trap. The lies by the recruiter was you only going to take this test just in case you decide to go into the military because I thought no way this could happen because I was classified by the Selective Service System as 4F which meant that you eligible for military service. So thinking that I was only taking a test, I went on the 2nd of February of 1978 to the Los Angeles Induction Center. In retrospect I can see that reason that I am a veteran today may be because allowed them to trick me thinking that they would take care of the matter of me being classified 4F after I signed the enlistment contract. Sometimes to sue maybe the only option to rectify a past injustice.

Tyler Marik on May 22, 2008 at 7:53 p.m. wrote:

The government always bares the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the charges against them. Because the government bears the burden of proof, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. All legal avenues should be available to the defense to secure a verdict of not guilty. When the government, a supremely and almost infinitely powerful entity attacks a single individual it should also have a burden to overcome in obtaining any conviction. Laws like this that are designed to help defendants are not specifically designed to be a burden to prosecutors on their face. Obviously in a system that is black and white, guilty or not guilty, what helps one side will be a detriment to the other, this is an unfortunate but necessary side effect. I feel that in this case in particular, if the case where a Pitchess Motion is being invoked is one of police brutality, I feel that the Pitchess Motion is not even strong enough. In a case where those who are supposedly upholding the law are instead abusing it and hurting the citizens they are supposed to protect, the public should be given all the tools necessary to secure a proper defense.

Edgaras Ramanauskas on May 11, 2008 at 5:21 p.m. wrote:

I would agree and disagree with Amanda. If an officer is abusive of his power it is generally in line with their character. That we have these incidents amongst the very people who are supposed to prevent them is very disturbing (more so with a seeming increase in them in recent years). It is my opinion that these incidents could very well be prevented more effectively if educational requirements for police officers would be raised, - but that's another issue. As goes for their privacy, I believe the limitations for the defense counsel should be very limited. If our politicians have to be transparent in their life and occupation, so should any governmental position of authority and power, i.e. police officers. If one will know that at any time his past record can be inspected and he/she may be judged partly in line with one's past action(s), that alone atleast serves as a deterrent. Moreover, I would disagree with Amanda on the Limitations of Evidence Code S.1045. I feel it may hurt defense. Let's say a particular officer with a history of such 'incidents' has been receiving medical or psyciatric help, and as a result, been clean for 5 years. Yet, let's say he has a relapse with a possibility of more. Now then, the limit of 5 year records does not do any good either to the defense nor to us all. While this is only one scenario, one could think of many more.

Sally Derohanessian on April 24, 2008 at 12:11 p.m. wrote:

I think a Pitchess Motion can prove to be a powerful tool for a defense counsel, therefore, it is a good idea to have limitations for its use. Not only is it a powerful tool to keep innocent defendants from being convicted of a crime they did not commit, but it is also an important tool to keep police officers in check so that they don't abuse the power granted to them by the people as Kyle and Kevin have commented. However, in response to Kevin's comment about an officer's entitlement to privacy, I feel I have to disagree because I think it should only be fair to judge an officer based on his past records in the line of duty, just as the court uses a defendant's past record of criminal activity to judge his moral character and estimate the likelihood that he/she did commit the crime he/she is currently convicted of. In any case, a Pitchess Motion can help shed some light on the given situation only if used carefully and with limitations, otherwise, we risk undermining the trust of our police officers as well as letting guilty defendants get away with their criminal activities.

Joe on April 21, 2008 at 2:28 p.m. wrote:

Also keep in mind that police precincts and departments may have had complaints against them as well, not just particular officers. Doing proper research can help aid the defense in a given case. There are very simple ways to do this, even searching the archives of newspapers in the region of the precinct may unearth information that could help the defense build a case that the officer and/or the precinct was biased against the defendant.

Kevin Chan on April 15, 2008 at 10:14 a.m. wrote:

I agree with Kyle that it is important that police officers do not abuse their power, and allowing the defense to utilize the history of an officer not only prevents the conviction of innocent people but it also puts a check on the police system and highlights officers who may not be acting properly. I also think that it is important to maintain the integrity of the justice system by giving officers some sort of authority over their jurisdictions. Everything an officer has done in the past does not mean that he will commit a similar offense, and as people who often face very tough situations, officers should be afforded some sort of privacy when dealing with those whom they have arrested. With that said, it seems the system of 'good cause' forces judges to ensure that the defense is not resorting to a Pitchess Motion simply as a last resort when the evidence is stacked against the defendant. On the note of having to track down a prior complainant, I think that if an officer has a number of complaints significantly higher than average the defense should be allowed to use that fact in court, because it may not always be possible to find a complainant who has both the time and the intention to aid the defense.

Kyle Reilly on April 11, 2008 at 6 p.m. wrote:

It is essential to have an adequate police force in order to maintain peace and harmony in our communities. Police must be given sufficient authority to protect citizens and enforce laws. Our democracy works by granting us all freedom, but freedom without responsibility will not create a harmonious community. Police should do their jobs to the best of their ability, and ensure that all proper protocols and procedures are correctly followed. At times, conflicts will arise and it is important that a system that allows for the documentation and investigation of claims to be reviewed. We are all humans and are subject to mistakes and misconduct does unfortunately occasionally occur. Records for police officers should be available for review pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. Our police officers to an amazing job at protecting our society, but we need to ensure that they are not abusing their power and that their records are accessible to help people in future cases should a certain particular officer be out of line. -Kyle Reilly

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