New Law Can Help Those Accused of Crimes Access Police Officer Records to Help Them Win Their Case
That’s not what happened! The police officer is lying! That’s not what I said!
Many people accused of crimes are surprised to learn of what police officers said they said or things they did following their arrest and charges filed against them. The accused becomes frustrated not only with being accused of a crime but because they feel that they have little or no power over who will the prosecutor, judge, or jury believe: the officer’s word or theirs? When a person hires our office to help them in their criminal case they often ask questions such as:
- How can I even defend myself when no one will believe me if a police officer is telling a different story?
- Has this officer lied before?
- Are there others with similar complaints against that police officer?
For years in the past, we would have to give bad news to our clients. In the past, official records were available in very limited circumstances. One of the primary ways a defense attorney could obtain information about an officer’s past was through the filing of a Pitchess motion. A Pitchess motion is a defense motion for obtaining specific information contained in a law enforcement’s personnel file. A defense attorney could file a Pitchess motion with a showing of good cause that a particular officer’s personnel files should be reviewed for evidence of past misconduct. However, in those instances, the defense attorney was only allowed the names and contact information of people who have made similar allegations of misconduct.
Public Records Act
This all changed when the state legislature passed State Bill 1421 in 2018. Beginning on January 1, 2019, the Public Records Act (“PRA”) permits the immediate disclosure of peace and custodial officer records upon request if the records concerned:
- officer discharging a firearm;
- use of force resulting in death or great bodily injury;
- sustained claims of sexual assault or dishonesty (i.e. perjury or filing a false report).
According to the director of PRA services and e-discovery counsel at Best Best & Kriger LLP, Christine N. Wood’s article in the Los Angeles Daily Journal: “[t]he statute provides a broad range of documents related to those events that are disclosable under the PRA. The statute
provides an exhaustive list of the types of records to be disclosed, including but not limited to all: investigative records, photos, audio, and video recordings transcripts, all documents presented to the district attorney for review, as well as copies of disciplinary records.”
The state also passed Assembly Bill 748 which offered further ways to access law enforcement officer records. Effective July 1, 2019, AB 748 amended the PRA to allow any member of the public to obtain specific types of audio, video recordings, or body-worn cameras, from law enforcement agencies if requested within 45 days of the alleged incident. Disclosure under AB 748 is proper if the person requesting the records can show it relates to a “critical incident”. A critical incident under AB 748 is (1) discharging a firearm at another person; or (2) using force that results in great bodily injury or death.
What this means is that our law firm has many more resources available to them in our effort to prevail in our client’s case. Our law firm can now request records and information previously denied to our clients which could bolster our client’s defense and lend credibility to their claim that the police are not being truthful. While we will still have to file legal motions to access this information, California’s new laws are very positive changes and allow Wallin and Klarich to help our clients when facing criminal charges in California.
CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WALLIN & KLARICH TODAY
If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime there is no time to waste. For over 40 years Wallin & Klarich has defended our clients throughout Los Angeles County from police and prosecutor misconduct. Our attorneys will use all of our legal experience to fight for your tooth and nail.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance, and Victorville, there is an experienced and skilled Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.
Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (714) 730-5300 for a free, no-obligation phone consultation. We will get through this together.
 “Peace officer records and the Public Records Act” by Christine N. Wood – Los Angeles Daily Journal (March 5, 2020)