How to Win a Pitchess Motion

Aaron Spolin

Award-winning attorney Aaron Spolin recently got a not-guilty verdict on an attempted murder charge in great part because of a successful Pitchess Motion. Read about other firm successes here.

Getting a Pitchess Motion granted by the judge requires your attorney to understand the law and know how to use evidence to support the motion. Award-winning criminal law attorney Aaron Spolin generally fights Pitchess Motions by taking these steps: (1) utilize specific facts to allege officer misconduct and (2) articulate a logical link between the misconduct and the defense we will use.

Former Prosecutor Aaron Spolin Explains How to Win a Pitchess Motion

  1. Utilize Specific Facts: The best way to win a Pitchess Motion is with specific facts gathered from an independent investigation and through the discovery process. The Pitchess Motion must allege officer misconduct by providing a specific factual scenario establishing a plausible fact-based need for the records. Further, a judge is more likely to grant a Pitchess Motion if the request is narrowly tailored to the potential misconduct or impropriety.
  2. Articulate a Logical Link Between the Misconduct and the Defenses: It is not enough to simply state that we believe the evidence would be helpful to your defense. We must articulate a logical link between the misconduct and the defenses we will use.

For example, if we claim that an officer used excessive force when arresting a defendant who is charged with resisting arrest, we should include the police report as an exhibit to the motion to show that there was an altercation during the arrest. We would not seek records of an officer’s sexual harassment since it has nothing to do with the defense. Instead, we would narrowly tailor the request to obtain evidence of similar past wrongdoings by the officer.

Another example may be where a defendant claims that an officer falsified information or planted evidence. A declaration should be filed with the motion stating exactly what the officer did or what evidence was planted. Allegations under oath that a detective fabricated evidence may rise to the level of misconduct to gain access to the personnel file where the credibility of the officer becomes an important question.

A Pitchess Motion should be filed if there is any indication that an officer acted improperly. If that happened in your case, call Mr. Spolin and his legal team at Spolin Law, P.C. at (310) 424-5816.

  1. How to Win a Pitchess Motion
  2. What Is a Pitchess Motion?
  3. Process for Bringing a Pitchess Motion
  4. How a Lawyer Makes a Difference

What Is a Pitchess Motion?

A Pitchess Motion is a legal document requesting the court to allow the defense to inspect a law enforcement officer’s personnel file for evidence of police misconduct. These motions are typically brought during the pre-trial phase when the defense suspects that an officer may have acted improperly.

In the Pitchess Motion process, California is balancing two interests:

  1. Protecting the privacy of its employees and maintaining secrecy of government information
  2. Complying with mandates of due process and allowing access to records with good cause

Due Process Gives You a Right to This Information

The Constitutional right to due process requires that the prosecution provide the defendant with discovery. Under a court ruling in the case Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the prosecution must disclose any favorable evidence related to guilt. Discovery includes any evidence related to the case, whether or not the prosecution would ultimately use it for trial.

Some examples of evidence that must be provided to the defendant through the informal discovery process include the following:

  • Physical evidence obtained in the investigation
  • Names, addresses, and telephone numbers of witnesses
  • Written and/or oral statements made by the defendant and any codefendants

Format of Pitchess Motion

A Pitchess Motion must include the following information:

  • The time and place the motion will be heard
  • The officer’s name
  • A description of the information sought
  • A statement based on reasonable belief that the government has the records or information sought
  • An affidavit or declaration showing materiality
  • An affidavit or declaration showing good cause for the disclosure

Good Cause and Materiality

In order to show good cause and materiality, the Pitchess Motion must make a valid claim justifying the discovery of the records being requested. The motion must have a declaration that explains which defense theory will be used and how that theory is tied to the specific facts from the case. It must be shown that the records being sought will aid in this defense.

However, it is important to note that a defendant is not required to disclose their defense strategy to the prosecutor. Thus, these documents can be filed under seal to protect the defendant from disclosing too much to the other side.

What Kind of Evidence Can a Pitchess Motion Be Used For?

Some police records are openly available to the public under California Senate Bill 1421 and do not need to be obtained through Pitchess Motion. For example, an officer’s use of force resulted in great bodily injury or death must be disclosed if requested through the informal discovery process. Also, evidence of dishonest acts by a police officer, such as perjury, must be disclosed. Other records that must be disclosed include when an officer shoots their gun at a person and if there is a prior finding that an officer committed a sexual assault. However, there are narrow exceptions in the records that are available to the public.

Other types of records are protected and cannot be obtained by simply requesting a copy from the police agency. A defendant must file a Pitchess Motion to gain access to other records that might be useful in their defense. Examples include prior complaints and records showing the following:

  • Use of excessive force
  • Fabricating probable cause
  • Racial profiling
  • Unlawful traffic stops
  • Planting or tampering with evidence
  • Sexual harassment
  • Coercing confessions

Those records may be contained in investigative reports, photographs, audio and video files, transcripts of interviews, autopsy reports, disciplinary records, and other documents setting forth or recommending findings.

If there is evidence that the police officers involved in your arrest engaged in any type of misconduct mentioned, Spolin Law, P.C. will consider filing a Pitchess Motion to obtain proof or disclose a pattern that can be used in your defense. Call our legal team for more information at (310) 424-5816.

  1. How to Win a Pitchess Motion
  2. What Is a Pitchess Motion?
  3. Process for Bringing a Pitchess Motion
  4. How a Lawyer Makes a Difference

Process for Bringing a Pitchess Motion

Process for Bringing a Pitchess Motion: Do we have an image of a judge or attorney in front of a judge or in court?

The skilled attorneys at Spolin Law, P.C. know how to persuade the court to grant a Pitchess Motion. Call our team today at (310) 424-5816.

A Pitchess Motion can be brought at any time after a person is charged with a crime, but before trial. It is a pre-trial motion. There is no set time limit for bringing a Pitchess Motion. However, it should be filed as soon as possible in order to give the defendant enough time to litigate the motion and conduct an adequate investigation if the motion is granted and evidence is obtained. It can even be filed before the preliminary hearing.

What Happens If the Motion Is Granted?

If the court decides the Pitchess Motion meets the requirements, it will grant the motion. If granted, the judge will review the records in private in what is called an in camera hearing. That means the judge will review the records in their chambers with a representative from the police department, but without the defense attorney or District Attorney. If the judge finds anything relevant, it will then be revealed to the defendant.

Further, if the judge finds that some records are relevant, the judge does not turn over actual records to the defense. Instead, the judge will provide the defendant’s attorney with the names and contact information of potential witnesses, including anyone who has made complaints against an officer. This will allow the attorney to contact those people and gather information.

What Happens If the Pitchess Motion is Denied?

All is not lost if the court denies your Pitchess Motion. If the motion was litigated in a California Superior Court, the issue is then preserved for an appeal. You can request that the Court of Appeal review the Superior Court’s actions and decision in deciding the Pitchess Motion. The Court of Appeal reviews a Superior Court’s denial of the motion for an abuse of discretion.

There are several ways to attack an appeal. Your attorney can argue that the Superior Court abused its discretion by denying the motion and withholding records. Also, the Superior Court’s procedures can be challenged. The Court of Appeal will determine if proper procedures were followed, such as whether the court held a hearing on the motion or improperly denied it without an in camera hearing.

Mr. Spolin and his team at Spolin Law, P.C. have had Pitchess Motion’s granted in many cases. However, they also know how to appeal when they get denied. For help with your case, contact our lawyers at (310) 424-5816.

  1. How to Win a Pitchess Motion
  2. What Is a Pitchess Motion?
  3. Process for Bringing a Pitchess Motion
  4. How a Lawyer Makes a Difference

How a Lawyer Makes a Difference

Attorneys Don Nguyen, Aaron Spolin, and Jeremy Cutcher, and legal researcher Dan DeMaria | Spolin Law P.C.

When you work with an award-winning criminal defense attorney at Spolin Law, P.C., you can feel secure that we will listen to what you have to say and fight to win your case.

Police misconduct can result in evidence that is ultimately used against the defendant to get an unfair outcome.

Spolin Law, P.C.’s award-winning criminal defense attorneys have a record of successful outcomes. We win cases because:

  • We listen to your side of the story. The team at Spolin Law, P.C. respects our clients and knows that they have a story to tell. The police officer’s information is not the final word. We will gather evidence to support your explanation of what happened.
  • We know the law. A Pitchess Motion will allow us to review records that are not otherwise publicly available. We can obtain this information to support defenses that we build in your case.
  • We know how to win. Spolin Law, P.C. has knowledgeable lawyers who will assert facts that persuade the court to grant a Pitchess Motion. We understand what the judge is looking for and know how to meet the elements of these motions to achieve success.

If you have questions about how a Pitchess Motion can help in your case, contact the legal team at the law firm of Spolin Law, P.C. at .