The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of Los Angeles recently ruled in favor of City of West Covina, Custodian of Records for the West Covina Police Department and West Covina Police Officer Gallardo in a case of first impression involving Motions for Pretrial Discovery of confidential peace officer personnel records under Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531.
In the Petition for Writ of Mandate, AGC Associate Attorney Richard Lam presented the Court with the question of whether a criminal Defendant, seeking supplemental Pitchess discovery, is entitled to discover the compelled statements of an officer, who was the subject of an investigation in an unrelated prior citizen complaint, when the Defendant was able to contact and obtain a statement from the prior complainant. The Court agreed with Mr. Lam's arguments and directed the lower court to vacate its previous ruling.
In the case of People v. Bernie Reyes, Defendant was charged with one count of resisting arrest/obstruction of an officer in violation of Penal Code § 148(a). Defendant's attorney moved the trial court for an order of pre-trial discovery under Pitchess claiming the officers used excessive force and falsified police reports, i.e. a Pitchess motion. The Superior Court granted the Defendant's Pitchess motion with respect to complaints involving excessive force on West Covina Police Department (WCPD) Officer Peter Gallardo. After an in camera review, the Court ordered the Custodian of Records for the WCPD to disclose the name, address and phone number of one complainant.
With this information, Defendant's investigator was able to contact the complainant and obtain a statement. But when the investigator attempted to contact Officer Gallardo, he was informed that Officer Gallardo did not wish to speak to the investigator. The investigator's inability to interview Officer Gallardo triggered Defendant to file a Supplemental Pitchess motion seeking further discovery of all verbatim statements made during the investigation of the prior complaint involving Officer Gallardo. Defendant's Supplemental Pitchess motion did not provide any reason how or why the statement from the complainant was inadequate. Similarly, Defendant's moving papers did not explain why the verbatim statements of Officer Gallardo were necessary in order to prepare his defense. Ultimately, Respondent Superior Court, whilst erring on the side of caution, granted the Supplemental Pitchess motion and ordered the Custodian of Records for the WCPD to disclose the information.
The City of West Covina, Custodian of Records for the West Covina Police Department and West Covina Police Officer Gallardo, through its attorney of record, immediately asserted the official information privilege pursuant to Evidence Code § 1040 and respectfully refused to comply with the Court's order. AGC immediately went to work preparing a Petition for Writ of Mandate in order to appeal the Superior Court's ruling.
The Petition was based on a narrow interpretation of the legal precedent and applicable case law in this particular niche of criminal discovery. Essentially, AGC argued that under Pitchess v. Superior Court, supra; Kelvin L. v. Superior Court, (1976) 62 Cal.App.3d 823; and City of Azusa v. Superior Court, (1987) 191 Cal.App.3d 693, that Defendant, in moving papers and oral arguments, failed to show that the initial discovery has "proved inadequate." Also, AGC argued that the Respondent Superior Court erroneously relied on Alvarez v. Superior Court (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 1107 for the proposition that a Defendant is entitled to the verbatim statements of a witness officer when that officer refuses to speak with the defense investigators. Therefore, the ruling of the Respondent Superior Court, if allowed to stand, would erroneously erode the protections conferred by Evidence Code § 1043, Penal Code § 832.7 and the entire Pitchess scheme.
Ultimately, the Appellate Court ruled in favor of the City of West Covina, the Custodian of Records for the WCPD and Officer Peter Gallardo. An Alternative Writ of Mandate, issued by the Appellate Court, directs the Superior Court to vacate its previous ruling, granting Defendant Bernie Reyes's Supplemental Pitchess motion.
From time to time, jurisdictions will encounter particular factual scenarios in dealing with Pitchess motions. Typically a criminal defense attorney, whether private or the public defender, has no interest in maintaining the confidentiality of peace officer personnel files. In certain cases, they attempt to extend or exceed the current limits of criminal discovery by demanding more than the law permits. In such case, as in this case, it is important to be represented by counsel who is knowledgeable about Pitchess motions and will zealous advocate on behalf of the law enforcement agency.
If you have any questions regarding this update or any matters related to Pitchess motions, please contact Associate Richard Lam at (562) 699-5500.
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