In criminal cases defendants are often curious what information a criminal defense lawyer will subpoena from an arresting police officer. Typically criminal lawyers will work to obtain information from the personnel file of the arresting officer if it is believed that their client is the victim of police misconduct. This motion is referred to as a Pitchess motion. The goal of a Pitchess motion is to obtain every bit of evidence that is favorable in defending a client. Pitchess motions can also be made in civil actions, but they rarely occur.
The theory behind a Pitchess motion is that a defendant should legally be entitled to any information that is relevant in their defense. If the officer’s personnel file contains information that may substantiate claims of misconduct, the defendant should have access to that information. The court will hold a hearing to review the Pitchess motion due to the fact that the court must balance both the defendant’s right to the information as well as the officer’s interest in maintaining privacy. It is important to understand that the Pitchess motion must be relevant to the specific complaint; you cannot access records that do not relate to the case.
Experienced criminal defense lawyers can use a Pitchess motion to potentially strengthen a defendant’s case before going to trial.
If you’ve been injured by a police officer in California, you have a legal right to see their personnel file.
When to use a Pitchess motion
In California police are held accountable for their actions, including misconduct. If you are arrested and make a claim that the police allegedly engaged in certain conduct:
- Violated your legal rights
- Used excessive/unnecessary force
- Racially profiled
- Coerced you into involuntary confessing
- Planted or fabricated evidence
- Made false statements in their report
- Illegal tactics
- Threatening the defendant
- Police brutality
It may be advantageous for a criminal attorney to file a Pitchess motion on your behalf. The Pitchess motion will often allow the attorney to determine if these claims have been made about the officer in the past and will help to determine the credibility of the officer(s) in question. The Pitchess motion may also reveal internal affairs investigations and records regarding medical or psychological care which may be relevant to your case. A Pitchess motion must specifically outline the alleged type of misconduct the officer engaged in and must establish a relevant connection between that misconduct and the criminal defense case.