Posted on September 4, 2015

What is a Pitchess Motion?

A law enforcement officer is a public servant paid by tax payer dollars. As such, they are subject to citizen complaints by any person for their misconduct. However, those complaints are not public information and take a court order to obtain. In a criminal case, in order to obtain a court order to review the complaints of a police officer’s personnel file, a criminal defense lawyer must file motion, known as a “Pitchess Motion” named after the California landmark case Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531. After submitting the motion, a hearing will be held to determine whether your defense lawyer alleged a sufficient factual basis for misconduct on part of the officer(s). If so, the motion will be granted and the judge will then conduct an in camera review of the officer’s personnel files. If there are multiple complaints, then the judge must determine which complaints to order over to the defense that are relevant to their allegations of misconduct. For instance, if you allege the police officer fabricated probable cause to search your vehicle, then citizen complaints of excessive force are not relevant to your probable cause misconduct claim.

There are a number of allegations to form the basis of a pitchess motion. Some include: fabrication of reasonable suspicion or probable cause, illegal arrest, excessive force, sexual harassment, lying / perjury. Once the judge orders the complaints to be turned over to the defense, the defense will receive a list of individuals with their contact information along with the subject of their complaint. To receive the actual copy of the complaint requires further court order. Once the defense is in possession of the list of individuals who filed complaints, they are free to contact them for their side of their story. If defense counsel believes that any or all the individuals who filed complaints on the specific officer, then they can subpoena them to testify for their side of the story. This may be useful in impeaching the police officer or demonstrating the officer’s common characteristic – i.e., excessive force when arresting someone.

For more information, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney John Rogers at the Law Offices of John D. Rogers. Call 877-888-9820 for a free confidential consultation concerning your rights and defenses.

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