What is the Purpose of a California Pitchess Motion?
When you have a situation where law enforcement are the primary witnesses or law enforcement has done something illegal related to a search, taking a statement or anything the defendant can use to file a motion to try to get the case dismissed or mitigated, you want to think about doing what’s called a “Pitchess Motion.”
Police Officer Personnel Records Showing a Pattern of Misconduct
What it is, is you’re trying to get the background information on the police officers associated with the case and you’re looking for stuff like prior false police reports that they might have filed, lying on a police report, any type of other misconduct that talks about their ability to tell the truth or do something illegal to the defendant. The reason you want that is because in their personnel record, they’re going to have all that type of information, even including a criminal record.
So, if somebody filed a complaint and claimed the officer filed a false police report and now your client is claiming that the police have filed a false police report against them, you can then send your investigator out to interview that particular person or persons and then try to use that person at the trial to show that the police are lying or you can call that person as a witness in a motion for example, saying it was an illegal stop, an illegal search, an illegal arrest, and then the judge can consider whether or not the police are telling the truth about that.
Real Case Example in Los Angeles County
I’ll never forget, I had a case in one of the courts in Los Angeles county and the prosecutor had to turn over to the defense the fact that one of the police officers involved with the case had done something illegal while they were working inside the Los Angeles county jail.
We went back in Chambers to discuss the motion with the judge and the judge said to the prosecutor, if you need to rely on that particular police officer in order to make this motion, you better think again, because I’m not believing anything that guy says.
That’s the type of power that a Pitchess Motion can have. That’s the type of power you have when you can bring on evidence that shows that the truth and voracity and credibility of a particular witness is in question. If that witness is crucial to the prosecution’s case, obviously, that could be a lynch pin in a lead argument to take out the testimony of that witness and sometimes either win a motion or win a case outright.
Because a lot of times you have people getting arrested and the only witnesses in the case are the police. So, if you can show that the police are not truthful, the police don’t have good credibility and if you can show the police have lied in the past in a case, then you’ve got a strong foothold to make an argument to the jury that they didn’t tell the truth the last time and they’re not telling the truth this time.
Obviously, you’re going to want to support that argument with surrounding facts — maybe your client’s testimony, maybe other witnesses who might have seen what happened and now you start to get yourself in a strong position to say, not only are our witnesses saying this is not true, we also have information that this police officer hasn’t been true before.
So, in order to win one of these Pitchess Motions, you obviously have to make a primary showing in the beginning that the police are saying something and you have evidence in contradiction to it. You can’t just go on a fishing expedition. I want to get anything I can on the police or the judge is not going to grant your Pitchess Motion.
For example, let’s say the police come up on your client. They pull him over on a traffic stop. They claim they shined their flashlight in the car and see a bag of cocaine sitting on the front seat. Your client submits a Declaration as part of the Pitchess Motion saying, the cocaine wasn’t on the front seat.
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They couldn’t have seen it. It was inside a hidden compartment inside the car. The only reason they saw it was because they illegally searched my car. I didn’t give them permission to search my car. Now, you’ve put their credibility, their voracity in play. You’re going to be able to get the judge to go back and look to see if the officer has anything that should be turned over to you based on your case; based on your argument that the police are not being truthful.
So, if you’re looking to file a Pitchess Motion talk to your criminal defense attorney. Make sure your attorney is familiar with the Pitches Motions in Los Angeles — how they’re conducted, who gets served with it and how to win it.