Edward Rezek was charged with two misdemeanor counts for delaying or obstructing a police officer and vandalism after he allegedly punched a car driven by a private security guard in a crosswalk. The security guard made a citizen's arrest of Rezek in the presence of two Tustin plain clothes police officers and Rezek resisted arrest. Rezek denied that he engaged in misconduct and alleged that he slapped the hood of the security guard's car after it almost struck him. Rezek further alleged that he was accosted by two men who did not identify themselves as police officers and that the officers inflicted significant injuries on him. Rezek subsequently filed a complaint with the Tustin Police Department against the officers.
Penal Code section 832.5 requires law enforcement departments to investigate complaints against their personnel. Records maintained pursuant to section 832.5 are confidential and shall not be disclosed except by discovery pursuant to Evidence Code sections 1043 and 1046 (i.e. a Pitchess Motion). The California Penal Code and Evidence Code provide a limited right to discovery of peace officer personnel records if the party makes a showing of good cause which must be demonstrated by filing a Pitchess motion. If a party makes a showing of good cause, and the Court reviews the pertinent documents, the Court can release contact information of third party complainants and potential witnesses to past misconduct. However, on occasions where a witness cannot remember earlier events, or the witness cannot be located, a supplemental Pitchess motion may be filed and the statements of the witnesses may be disclosed to the defendant.
Rezek filed a Pitchess motion which sought information from the arresting officers' personnel files. As a result, he was provided with the name of a complaining witness to a 2004 incident involving an allegation of excessive force against one of the officers, as well as statements of seven witnesses to the 2004 incident.
Rezek subsequently brought a supplemental discovery motion in which he sought the verbatim witness statements that were obtained from the Department's internal affairs investigation stemming from Rezek's complaint against the officers. Unlike the typical Pitchess motion, defendant's motion did not seek discovery of third party complaints of past incidents of alleged misconduct (the court had granted Rezek's Pitchess motion for that information), but sought discovery of the witnesses' statements pertaining to the very incident that served as the basis for the pending charges.
The trial court initially denied Rezek's supplemental discovery motion based on its belief that Rezek was required to obtain the witness statements from the district attorney pursuant to Penal Code section 1054.1 which requires the prosecutor to disclose to the defense "[r]elevant written or recorded statements of witnesses or reports of the statements of witnesses whom the prosecutor intends to call at the trial." However, the prosecutor took the position that statements contained in an officer's personnel file are not subject to Penal Code section 1054.1 and the trial court initially held that it had no jurisdiction to make sure the prosecutor complied with section 1054.1. The court denied Rezek's discovery motion because it concluded it did not have jurisdiction to go in camera to determine whether the district attorney or police department complied with its discovery obligations. The appellate court subsequently denied writ review. The California Supreme Court , however, granted Rezek's petition for review and transferred the matter back to the appellate court.
The Court of Appeals then held that the trial court abused its discretion in denying defendant's discovery motion on the mistaken belief that Penal Code section 1054.1 is the exclusive means by which a defendant may obtain such statements. While recognizing that information in an officer's personnel file is conditionally privileged pursuant to Penal Code section 832.7, the Court held that a defendant is entitled to file a Pitchess motion to discover the statements of percipient witnesses to a charged incident. Further, the Court held that Rezek had made a sufficient showing of good cause pursuant to Evidence Code sections 1043 to require an in camera inspection of the witness statements obtained during the internal affairs investigation of Rezek's complaint.
LCW Practice Pointer:
Importantly, this case only dealt with the disclosure of third-party witness statements and not the statements of other law enforcement personnel with regards to the incident. In addition, and as set forth in the decision itself, the release of actual witness statements under Pitchess is usually limited to situations where providing the witness contact information is insufficient for some reason.