I could never understand how Pitchess and the statutes protecting police misconduct files could be constitutional under Brady. You would think that the rule that the government must disclose exculpatory information would require the government to disclose exculpatory information, even if the evidence is of a cop’s misconduct. This is especially true where it is established law that the police are an arm of the prosecution. Apparently the prosecution has no requirement to disclose excuplatory information in a personnel file.
In this case, the police notified the DA that there was potentially exculpatory information in a police personnel files. The appellate court held that, under Brady, the prosecution had an obligation to file a pitchess motion and disclose any fruits of that motion.
The Supreme Court reversed this decision. The Court reasoned that because the prosecution and the defense are equally capable of obtaining the information through a Pitchess motion, the prosecution has no obligation to file the motion as long as the prosecution notifies the defense of the police tip about potential misconduct.
First, the Court said that the prosecution does not have access to an officer’s personnel file outside of the statutory rules protecting the privacy of the files. Second, the court said that the prosecution had a duty to relay the police’s tip about exculpatory information to the defense.
In ruling that the prosecution does not need to file a pitchess motion to obtain exculpatory information, the court stated that the defense has an equal opportunity to file the motion. There is law to support the idea that there is no Brady violation if the defense has access to the evidence.
My question is this: because the defense has to make a showing of good cause to have a pitchess motion granted, isn’t the prosecution under a duty, under Brady, to at least inquire with the police department whether there is any exculpatory information about a particular officer? The defense made a similar argument, contending that the burden to have a pitchess motion granted is too high, which the Court rejected. The defense also argued that to meet the reasonable belief requirement to obtain pitchess records, he would need notice of what information would be in the file. The Court also rejected this, saying that the defense does not have to have personal knowledge, they only need to show a belief that people have filed complaints against the officers. I do not understand that logic. How can you have a belief that there are complaints without any facts to support that belief? Such facts could come only from some kind of personal knowledge that there are complaints; you can’t just say you have a belief that there would be a complaint because your gut tells you the cop is a bad cop.
This is a terrible decision. I want the US Supremes to reverse.