Disclosure of District Attorney's Criminal Charging Practices

Rulings on discovery motions have long been subjected to an abuse of discretion standard of review. (People v. Ashmus (1991) 54 Cal. 3d 932 [2 Cal. Rptr. 2d 112, 820 P.2d 214].) In Ashmus, the defendant in a (pre-Proposition 115) capital murder prosecution sought disclosure of the district attorney's charging practices. One of his purposes in seeking this material was to obtain support for his equal protection claim regarding death penalty prosecutions (i.e., discriminatory prosecution). The California Supreme Court held that the trial court "could reasonably have concluded" that the defendant had failed to satisfy the "plausible justification" standard which then governed the discoverability of such material. (Ashmus, at p. 980, italics added.) While the defendant's supporting evidence showed that the district attorney "treated different defendants differently," he provided no evidence that the district attorney's policies and practices "might be arbitrary and capricious or invidiously discriminatory." (Ashmus, at p. 980.) By concluding that the trial court's ruling must be upheld because the trial court could reasonably have concluded that the defendant failed to satisfy his burden, the California Supreme Court clearly applied an abuse of discretion standard of review to a ruling on a discovery motion in a criminal case.