What is a “Pitchess Motion” in Criminal Law?

May 30, 2023 by Seppi Esfandi in California  Criminal Defense  
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What is a “Pitchess Motion” in Criminal Law?

A California Pitchess Motion (EC 1043 and 1045) seeks access to law enforcement personnel files.

Your defense attorney will usually submit a Pitchess Motion before the trial if they suspect police misconduct has occurred and you, as the client, have been affected. Examples of police officers’ wrongful actions that can back a Pitchess Motion consist of but are not restricted to:

  • Creating a false reason for suspicion.
  • Illegal detention by the authorities or pulling over on the road unlawfully;
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Too much force.
  • Racism in policing.
  • Fake cop records.
  • Forcing admissions
  • Perjury;
  • Tampered evidence.

Consider filing a Pitchess Motion if you suspect any law enforcement officers involved in your arrest of misconduct that may have affected the charges against you. This can help establish a pattern of such behavior.

Filing a Pitchess Motion: Steps to Follow

A Pitchess motion is submitted in the pretrial stage of the County criminal court. A judge will address your motion before your jury trial.

Although our lawyers could file a Pitchess motion before your preliminary hearing, the court won’t respond until it’s finished. In California, criminal lawyers are required to submit a written Pitchess motion.

According to Evidence Code 1043, the motion must contain this information:

  • The case involves the defendant, a police officer, and the agency with custody of the records.
  • Explanation of the records requested.
  • An affidavit demonstrating justification for disclosing the records.
  • The defendant provided evidence of their notification to the agency holding motion records.

The most crucial aspect of the Pitchess motion is the affidavit that demonstrates valid grounds for revealing the police officer’s record. The affidavit must show that factual events support accusations of police misconduct and explain why that misconduct is significant to your case. Serving the Pitchess motion to the government agency must occur 16 court days before the hearing.

The County prosecutor doesn’t need to review the complete motion, only that the hearing will occur. They don’t go against the motion, but the police department does.

If the affidavit for “good cause” and Pitchess motion fulfill the stated requirements, they will be granted and proceed to the subsequent stage. Consult a law firm specializing in criminal defense to learn about the process of filing a Pitchess motion.

In camera hearings regarding a Pitchess motion

“In camera” refers to a private, off-the-record hearing rather than a public court session. Once the motion is granted, the judge will decide if the information in the officer’s personnel file is pertinent to your defense. The judge will disclose only relevant details concerning your plea.

Specific data in the officer’s record is confidential and can’t be revealed, including:

  • Complaints filed against the officer more than five years ago from the time of the alleged misconduct in your case;
  • The viewpoints of fellow officers who probed allegations made by citizens against the officer.
  • Distant facts that hold no value in being disclosed.

The judge will grant access to any complaints in the police officer’s personnel file that are relevant to your case if they exist.

Your lawyer will receive a roster of people, their contact details, and their complaint topic. They can contact these individuals for an interview on their case and may also utilize them as a witness.

The outcome of the Motion Granting

The court can grant the Pitchess Motion upon meeting the requirements. The judge will review the records privately in an in-camera hearing if approved. The judge will review the records privately with a police representative, excluding the defense attorney and District Attorney. The judge will disclose any relevant findings to the defendant.

In addition, when a judge determines certain records to be pertinent, they do not provide the original documents to the defense. The judge will give the defendant’s lawyer the names and contact details of potential witnesses, including those who filed complaints against an officer. The attorney can contact those individuals and collect information.

Consequences of a Rejected Pitchess Motion

Don’t worry if the court rejects your Pitchess Motion. A California Superior Court litigation preserves an issue for appeal. Ask the Court of Appeal to scrutinize the Superior Court’s actions and decision on the Pitchess Motion. The Appellate Court examines a Superior Court’s rejection of a petition concerning an abuse of judgment.

Multiple approaches exist to challenge an appeal. Your lawyer can claim that the motion was unfairly denied and records were withheld due to the Superior Court’s misuse of discretion. The procedures of the Superior Court are subject to challenge. The Court of Appeal will evaluate whether correct protocols were followed, including determining if a hearing was conducted on the motion or if it was wrongly dismissed without an in-camera hearing.

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Lara S.
December 3, 2019
Seppi had my case reduced to just an infraction, and thanks to him I was able to keep my job. Jorge was extremely helpful too, the reason I went with this law firm. Overall pleased.

How to Win Your Case

We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:

  1. Don’t ever talk to the police
  2. Do not discuss your case with anyone
  3. Everything you tell your lawyer is confidential
  4. Tell police you need to contact your attorney
  5. Never consent to any search by the police
  6. If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
  7. Realize the consequences of a criminal conviction
  8. Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
  9. Information on your cell phone is evidence
  10. Early Intervention is the key

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