Should Prosecutors Get the Names of Officers Who Commit Misconduct?

Category: Published Articles
Date: Jun 7, 2019 02:12 PM

Partner Geoffrey Sheldon Featured on Daily Journal Podcast.

On June 7, 2019, the Daily Journal published its “Weekly Appellate Report” podcast about an ongoing case on whether law enforcement officials may disclose to prosecutors the names of deputies and officers who have committed misconduct. This case, which is now with California Supreme Court, is between the County of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department union. Geoffrey Sheldon, Partner from Liebert Cassidy Whitmore’s Los Angeles office, is representing the County on this case. He shares his remarks about the case on this podcast episode – “Brady v. Pitchess.”

The case revolves around how to balance California’s police privacy laws with the obligations law enforcement agencies have under the Brady rule. The case stems from a 2017 lawsuit filed by the LA Deputies’ union to prevent former Sheriff Jim McDonnell from turning over to the district attorney 300 names of deputies with a history of misconduct. The court of appeal ruled that the list must be kept secret, even in pending criminal cases.

Now, the case has been brought to the California Supreme Court where justices must try to draw the fine line between the many concurrent laws playing in this case. Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Brady v. Maryland, the prosecution in a criminal case must disclose to the defense all exculpatory evidence in the prosecution’s possession. Meanwhile, California Penal Code sections 832.7 and 832.8 afford confidential status to officer personnel records and impose an obligation on law enforcement agencies to maintain the confidentiality of such records. This means that if a prosecutor is seeking evidence from an officer’s personnel file, they must file a written motion demonstrating good cause for the disclosure.  If the motion is granted, the trial court privately reviews the officer’s personnel records and provides the defendant with any relevant information.  This is what is commonly known as “Pitchess motions.” And at the beginning of 2019, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill 1421 that allows members of the public to obtain certain peace officer personnel records that were previously available only through the Pitchess procedure by making a request under the California Public Records Act (“CPRA”) request.

To listen to the podcast, please visit the Daily Journal website here.

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