California Landmark Cases on Pitchess Motion

It is well settled that, "In 1978, the California Legislature codified the privileges and procedures surrounding what had come to be known as 'Pitchess motions' through the enactment of Penal Code sections 832.7 and 832.8 and Evidence Code sections 1043 through 1045." (City of Santa Cruz v. Municipal Court (1989) 49 Cal.3d 74, 81.) These Penal Code sections define "personnel records" and provide they are "confidential," but subject to discovery pursuant to certain procedures set out in the Evidence Code. (Id. at pp. 81-82.) Together, Evidence Code sections 1043 and 1045 set forth the specific procedures for discovery of such personnel records. In adopting such statutory scheme, the Legislature "'not only reaffirmed but expanded' the principles of criminal discovery articulated" in Pitchess. (City of Santa Cruz, supra, 49 Cal. 3d at p. 84.) As the court in California Highway Patrol v. Superior Court (2000) 84 Cal. App. 4th 1010 (CHP) noted, Evidence Code sections 1043 and 1045 "establish a two-step procedure for discovery of peace officer personnel records by a criminal defendant. First, section 1043 requires the defendant to file a written motion for discovery of peace officer personnel records. The motion must include 'a description of the type of records or information sought,' supported by 'affidavits showing good cause for the discovery or disclosure sought, setting forth the materiality thereof to the subject matter involved in the pending litigation and stating upon reasonable belief that such governmental agency identified has the records or information from the records.' The second step is reached after a defendant makes a showing of good cause for the discovery." (CHP, supra, 84 Cal. App. 4th at pp. 1019-1020.) That second step is an in camera "examination of the records to determine whether they have any relevance to the issues presented in the current proceedings." (City of San Jose v. Superior Court (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 1135 at p. 1143.) In addition to specific enumerated categories of exclusion of information, Evidence Code section 1045 provides "general criteria to guide the court's determination of relevance for disclosure and insure that the privacy interests of the officers subject to the motion are protected." (City of Santa Cruz, supra, 49 Cal. 3d at p. 83.) Thus, it has been said that "the relatively low threshold for discovery embodied in Evidence Code section 1043 is offset, in turn, by Evidence Code section 1045's protective provisions. . . ." ( City of Santa Cruz, supra, 49 Cal. 3d at p. 83.) Such "legislation was intended to balance the need of criminal defendants to relevant information and the legitimate concerns for confidentiality of police personnel records." (People v. Breaux (1991) 1 Cal. 4th 281, 312, 821 P.2d 585.) With respect to the "materiality" element of Evidence Code section 1043, subdivision (b)'s "good cause" requirement, the Supreme Court has observed that "a criminal defendant's right to discovery is based on the 'fundamental proposition that an accused is entitled to a fair trial and an intelligent defense in light of all relevant and reasonably accessible information.' Pitchess made it clear that 'an accused . . . may compel discovery by demonstrating that the requested information will facilitate the ascertainment of the facts and a fair trial.' In contrast to the detailed showing required by some civil discovery statutes, the requisite showing in a criminal matter 'may be satisfied by general allegations which establish some cause for discovery' other than a mere desire for all information in the possession of the prosecution. The information sought must, however, be 'requested with adequate specificity to preclude the possibility that defendant is engaging in a "fishing expedition."'" ( City of Santa Cruz, supra, 49 Cal. 3d at pp. 84-85.) The high court clarified that a showing of "good cause" under Evidence Code sections 1043 and 1045 requires a defendant "to demonstrate the relevance of the requested information by providing a 'specific factual scenario' which establishes a 'plausible factual foundation' for the allegations of officer misconduct committed in connection with defendant." ( CHP, supra, 84 Cal. App. 4th at p. 1020.) The court in City of Santa Cruz found such "plausible factual foundation" established by a reading of the police reports in conjunction with counsel's declaration, which alleged the specific factual scenario the officers there used excessive force during the defendant's arrest, described instances of unreasonable force used during the arrest, claimed the officers' character, habits, customs and credibility would be material issues at trial, and opined other excessive force complaints may have been filed and investigated against those officers which would show or lead to evidence showing they tended to use excessive force in making arrests. (City of Santa Cruz, supra, 49 Cal. 3d at pp. 85-86.)