New York Civil Rights Law 50-a - Example Case

In People v. Gissendanner (48 NY2d 543, 548, 399 N.E.2d 924, 423 N.Y.S.2d 893 [1979]), the defense sought, by court-ordered subpoena duces tecum, the qualifiedly privileged personnel records (see Civil Rights Law 50 a) of police officers involved in the defendant's case. The Court of Appeals set out a framework for analyzing a defendant's application to subpoena police records under section 50-a. The Court noted that records are properly obtained when the defendant demonstrates that the prior bad acts detailed in the officer's disciplinary records bear special relevance to the factual circumstances of the defendant's case. The Court there stated: Granting... that the constitutional roots of the guarantees of compulsory process and confrontation may entitle these to a categorical primacy over the State's interest in safeguarding the confidentiality of police personnel records, it is not to be assumed that in striking the balance between the two, police confidentiality must always yield to the demands of a defendant in a criminal case. The circumstances which support such demands may vary greatly. And, though access must be afforded to otherwise confidential data relevant and material to the determination of guilt or innocence, as for example... or when it involves other information which, if known to the trier of fact, could very well affect the outcome of the trial , there is no such compulsion when requests to examine records are motivated by nothing more than impeachment of witnesses' general credibility.