What Is A Pitchess Motion As It Relates to LA Criminal Defense?
A pitchess motion has to do with the general term would be discovery. But basically, what you’re trying to do is you’re saying, there’s law enforcement officers that are either percipient witnesses to my case or are going to hold some evidence in my case or have recovered some evidence in my case that I don’t feel have done a fair job. I think there are some questionable practices on their part. I think they’re lying about something. There are all sorts of different angles as to why you’re trying to do the pitchess motion. Basically, what it is, you’re saying, let me see the law enforcement’s background. In other words, have they ever had any cases filed against them where someone has alleged that they planted evidence? Have they ever had any cases filed against them where somebody has alleged that they have fabricated a police report or done something dishonest?
So, that’s really what you’re seeking when you do a pitchess motion. For example, let’s say a law enforcement officer is a percipient witness and sees what happened and is trying to claim that the defendant did something they didn’t do. Now, you want to be able to challenge. You could just say to them, that’s not true, and they’re going to say, no it is true. So, how can you challenge them? A pitchess motion starts to get some footwork and groundwork in on challenging a police officer. A person can testify and say, I didn’t do that. This person is lying and then you try to bring forth other evidence that shows they’ve lied before and that shows it’s a common practice, and then you can try to challenge them as a witness in a case.
So, a pitchess motion is something that is filed with the court. The court will hear the motion. You obviously have to submit a motion. You have to submit a declaration. One of the biggest things in a pitchess motion is actually making an issue out of it. You can’t just say, I’d just like to see what’s there because maybe I can find something good that will help the client. No, it doesn’t work that way. You have to actually say something like, my defendant is saying that what this police officer said in the police report is not true and it bears on a material issue in the case. Now, you’re in business because now the judge is going to say, they’re trying to challenge the officer. They’re challenging him on a material issue. So, I am now going to give them a chance to see if the officer has any background or anything.
Now the officer can be challenged if you can find some good stuff related to the pitchess motion and what ends up happening is – let’s say your pitchess motion is granted. Now you’re going to be given any information there is that’s relevant to your inquiry. You can now take that information and you can send an investigator out to try to find witnesses who might help the defense – who might have information that bears on the credibility of the police – who might have information the police have lied before – fabricated a police report. So, if you can do that, and if you can do so successfully, now you start to be able to challenge the police and this pitchess motion is a very effective tool to do that.
Who’s going to come and defend the pitchess motion is a good question in Los Angeles? The City Attorney’s office in LA basically guards the police’s record. So, they’re going to send a representative. They pretty much object to every pitchess motion. They come in and say no, you shouldn’t be able to get the police officer’s record. It’s not relevant. They come in with all kinds of crazy arguments. But listen, if you have a good argument and it’s the right case for a pitchess motion, that’s something you have to sit down and discuss with a criminal defense attorney that’s been doing it for a long time.
I’ve been doing this since from last twenty-five years. I’ve done hundreds of pitchess motions. If you have the angle, your defense attorney is going to be able to get the pitchess motion, and sometimes you do the pitchess motion and you don’t get anything. Other times, you do the pitchess motion and you get something, but then you investigate it and you still can’t find anything. So, it really just depends on what is out there to get and how it relates to your case, in evaluating whether or not a pitchess motion is the right thing to do.
For me, if the police are witnesses, if there are questions, if your client says they lied – other times pitchess motions are great is when the police claim they see something they didn’t and then they’re able to get a search warrant or they’re able to search the person or stop their car. You can do the pitchess motion and say, they’ve lied about this stuff before. We have another witness right here that says that they lied about the probable cause necessary to search their home or their car.
So, it’s an effective way to challenge motions as well in Los Angeles. You don’t do it in every case. Sometimes clients ask me to do it and I tell them, the police have nothing to do with whether or not you’re going to be proven guilty or innocent. The police didn’t seize any evidence that’s going to be used against you, so we’re not going to do a pitchess motion. It doesn’t make sense. It has to make sense and the way you figure out whether a pitchess motion makes sense in your criminal case in Los Angles is to sit down with your attorney. Be honest with them. Tell them what you’re thinking and then let the attorney make the decisions and make the moves necessary to properly defend your case.
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