Vol. 17 No. 7 City Of Los Angeles V. Superior Court (Brandon)

August 27, 2002

To: All Police Chiefs and Sheriffs

From: Martin J. Mayer



The California Supreme Court, yesterday, overturned two lower courts whichordered the disclosure of a citizen’s complaint against an officer from 10 years ago. This firm had the honor of submitting an amicus brief, on behalf of CSSA, CPCA and CPOA, supporting the City of Los Angeles. Our primary argument was
that our state statute, which creates a five year cutoff for discovery of such items, is reasonable and did not violate the defendant’s constitutional right to discover such information.

In a 6-1 decision, the Court ruled that Evidence Code 1045, barring disclosure of such information if it is more than five years old, outweighed the prosecution’s constitutional obligations under Brady v. Maryland. The
prosecutor’s Brady obligation is to disclose potentially damaging information to the defense – that includes information which can be used to attack the credibility of a material, prosecution, witness.

In the instant case, the information being sought involved a 10 year old matter where the officer had failed to report another officer’s improper use of Mace on a prisoner. The defendant in the Brandon case was trying to prove that the arresting officer “coached” witnesses in his case, which involved a minor who alleged that Brandon molested him. The Court stated that, “…it is not reasonably probable that a 10 year old complaint of failing to report another officer’s improper use of Mace would alter the outcome of defendant’s trial.”

However, the Court also indicated that, under different circumstances, a personnel record more than 5 years old could be subject to disclosure under Brady. The key issue will be the relevance of the old complaint to the current case. The primary standard to determine relevance is whether, if the information was known to the trier of fact, it would alter the outcome of the trial. That determination, said the Court, would be made during an “in camera” hearing
conducted by the judge.

Citing to the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39 (1987), the Court pointed out that the case allows for trial courts to review information protected by a “qualified statutory confidentiality,” to determine
if Brady disclosure is required. The Ritchie procedure is very similar to the Pitchess process in that it calls for an “in camera” review, thereby protecting the officer’s right of privacy, before a decision is made by the court.

The Supreme Court’s decision is consistent with the advice this office has shared with it’s clients for the past several years. We have always advocated that, before a defendant gets anything from an officer’s personnel file, an “in camera” hearing must be conducted by the court to determine whether anything is subject to disclosure and, if it is, to secure a protective order from the court.

In a recent Client Alert Memorandum, Vol. 16, No. 9, November 14, 2001, we stated that the use of the procedure in the case of Pennsylvania v. Ritchie would protect the officer’s privacy interests. We are, obviously, most pleased that the California Supreme Court agrees with the need for such protections.

As always, we urge that you confer with your agency’s legal advisor regarding this matter. If you have questions or wish to discuss this Memo in greater detail, please do not hesitate to communicate with Martin Mayer at 714-446-1400 or mjm@jones-mayer.com.

[The Law Offices of Jones & Mayer located in Fullerton, California focus its practice on representing the interests of public entities as its City Attorney, in labor negotiations, in defending tort litigation and civil rights litigation. Martin Mayer focuses his practice in the area of representing cities, counties and the State on matters arising out of their respective law enforcement agencies.]