Friday, May 17, 2002
Check of Personnel Files Not Needed for Brady Claim—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Prosecutors had no obligation under Brady v. Maryland to investigate whether Sheriff’s Department personnel files, kept as an administrative function, contained material favorable to a defendant’s case or to turn over such material to a defendant who failed to show files contained such material, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Three affirmed the ruling of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David S. Milton and ruled that a violation of Brady, which requires prosecutors to turn over to the defense any information about police officers which would be helpful to the defense, did not occur. Any files which may have contained such evidence were not possessed by the prosecution, but by the Sheriff’s Department, which was not “acting on the government’s behalf” in the criminal case against Jerry Northup, the trial judge and the appellate panel ruled.
Northup, who was convicted of possession of methamphetamine and sentenced to eight years in prison, argued that his conviction should be overturned because the trial court failed to order character evidence about the two deputies who arrested him be turned over, pursuant to Brady.
“In order for the prosecution to properly discharge its duty under Brady, it has an affirmative obligation in every case to investigate the personnel files of all significant police officer witnesses and to disclose to the defense any complaints which may either exculpate the defendant or impeach police officer witnesses,” Northup argued.
The arresting deputies, Edward Looney and Micheal Inge, accused Northup of getting rid of the methamphetamine and a glass pipe before they detained him.
On February 15, 2000, Northup filed a Pitchess motion asking for the names and addresses of people who had filed complaints against the deputies for “acts of official misconduct amounting to moral turpitude, including, but not limited to, allegations of, false arrest, planting evidence, fabrication of police reports, fabrication of probable cause, false testimony and/or perjury.”
In his motion, Northup argued the deputies lied about his discarding of the drug or the glass pipe, suggested that the deputies may have planted the items on him, and said the deputies would be committing perjury if they testified that Northup possessed or discarded them.
Northup’s motion also sought additional related reports and information.
The court ordered counsel for the Sheriff’s Department to provide Northup with the names and addresses of those who made complaints about the deputies, but refused to grant the motion for the other records.
On April 25, Northup filed a document demanding that the court and prosecutor provide “discovery of Brady material contained in the police personnel files.”
The court reviewed the documents to see whether anything needed to be disclosed and determined that “What is in here would not be discoverable. It would be irrelevant and even if it were relevant, it would not be admissible.”
Northrup filed another request for Brady material on June 5 and argued at the subsequent hearing that Pitchess and the Evidence Code sections that codified its principles were unconstitutional because they violate Brady.
The court declined to address the constitutional argument and also declined to “grant any other relief that the defense would be entitled to other than what was provided under the Pitchess case, its progeny, and the appropriate Evidence Code sections.”
In order for a Brady violation to occur: the evidence at issue must be favorable to the accused; that evidence must have been surpressed by the State; and prejudice must have ensued, Justice Walter Croskey wrote.
The panel held that the Sheriff’s Department is not a part of the prosecution team and was doing what any other employer would do - keep personnel files.
The court drew a distinction between keeping administrative files and files that theoretically would have something to do with the prosecution investigation.
“There is no evidence that the department maintained the personnel files at issue in its capacity as an agency investigating criminal wrongdoing, to assist the prosecution of Northup, or as the prosecution’s agent in the prosecution’s case against Northup,” Croskey wrote.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company