Friday, February 28, 2003
Supreme Court Limits Scope of Pitchess Disclosure
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Police personnel records disclosed in response to a Pitchess motion and discovery order cannot be made available for use in cases other than that in which the motion was made, the California Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Allowing attorneys who obtain relevant information about a police officer who is a witness against a client to share that data with other attorneys, who would then be able to use it when the officer testifies in another case, is contrary to the balance that state law seeks to make between the party’s need for discover and the officer’s privacy interests, the court held.
The justices split 6-1 on that issue, with Justice Carlos Moreno the lone dissenter.
The court ruled in the case of a San Diego drug defendant, who sought discovery of information alleged to relate to the credibility of the arresting officer. The motion was brought under Evidence Code Sec. 1043, which codifies the procedure for obtaining discovery of police personnel records under 1974’s Pitchess v. Superior Court, 11 Cal.3d 531.
Sec. 1043 and related provisions state that if the moving party establishes good cause for discovery through affidavits, the trial judge must order that the requested documents be produced for examination. If the judge then finds the documents admissible or likely to lead to discovery of admissible evidence, they are turned over to defense counsel, subject to an appropriate protective order so as to balance the officer’s privacy and due process interests against the interests sought to be served by disclosure.
In the case argued yesterday, Alford v. Superior Court,, 03 S.O.S. 1017, the trial judge at first held that the names and addresses of citizens who had filed complaints against the officer should be disclosed. But the jurist later concluded that an effective protective order could not be made and denied the motion on reconsideration.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. One, granted a writ of mandate, directing the trial judge to reinstate the disclosure order and fashion an appropriate protective order.
The public defender petitioned the Supreme Court for review. The high court agreed, but limited its review to two issuesówhether disclosure should be limited to the proceeding in which it is ordered, and whether the District Attorney’s Office was properly denied standing to argue.
On the latter issue, the court held that a prosecutor is entitled to notice of a defendant’s Pitchess motion, and to be present in order to answer questions by the court. But because the hearing “is essentially a third party discovery proceeding,” the prosecutor is not entitled to view the material that is ordered disclosed, Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote.
Werdegar was joined on that issue by Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justice Joyce L. Kennard, as well as by Moreno.
Justice Marvin Baxter, joined by Justices Janice Rogers Brown and Ming Chin, argued that there is no reason to deny prosecutors “full notice and participation in the public phase of defense-initiated Pitchess hearings.”
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company