City of San Jose v. Superior Court, H018225

Citation67 Cal.App.4th 1135,79 Cal.Rptr.2d 624
Decision Date16 November 1998
Docket NumberNo. H018225,H018225
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Parties, 98 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 8466, 98 Daily Journal D.A.R. 11,736 CITY OF SAN JOSE, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT of Santa Clara County, Respondent; Eti Fautau Eti, Real Party in Interest.

Joan R. Gallo, City Attorney, George Rios, Assistant City Attorney, Tim Spangler, Deputy City Attorney, Dana Ritchie, Staff Attorney, Attorneys for Petitioner.

John R. Tennant, General Counsel, San Jose Police Officer's Association, Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

No appearance for Respondent.

Jose R. Villarreal, Public Defender, John Vaughn, Deputy Public Defender, for Real Party in Interest.


The City of San Jose (the City) petitions this court for a writ of mandate or, in the alternative, a writ of prohibition directing respondent, the Santa Clara County Superior Court (the trial court), to vacate its order granting the motion for discovery of personnel records of certain officers of the San Jose Police Department filed by real party in interest Eti Fautau Eti (defendant) and to issue a new order denying defendant's discovery motion.

The City contends the trial court abused its discretion by ordering the release of the peace officers' personnel records. 1 We conclude that the trial court erred by releasing the records because defendant failed to make a showing of "good cause for the discovery or disclosure sought" (Evid.Code, § 1043, subd. (b)(3)) in that he failed to provide a "specific factual scenario" establishing a "plausible factual foundation" for his allegations of police misconduct. (City of Santa Cruz v. Municipal Court (1989) 49 Cal.3d 74, 85-86, 260 Cal.Rptr. 520, 776 P.2d 222.) We will therefore issue a writ of mandate commanding the trial court to vacate its order releasing the peace officers' personnel records and to issue a new order denying defendant's discovery motion.

Factual and Procedural Background

Defendant was charged with receiving stolen property (Pen.Code, § 496) and possession of a firearm by a felon (Pen.Code, § 12021, subd. (a)(1)) after a search of his residence by four officers of the San Jose Police Department: Officers Knox, Ramirez, Berry and Brooks.

According to the police report, on July 12, 1996, Officers Knox and Ramirez conducted follow-up investigation on an assault which reportedly had occurred the previous day. They identified defendant as a possible suspect in the assault and discovered defendant had an outstanding arrest warrant. Officers Knox, Ramirez, Berry and Brooks went to defendant's residence, where the officers contacted Masele Taeleifi, the mother of defendant's children. Taeleifi initially stated that she was a friend of the family and explained that defendant rarely stayed at the house. Taeleifi gave the officers permission to search the residence for defendant. While searching, Officer Knox noticed photographs of defendant, Taeleifi, and their children. When he asked Taeleifi about the photographs, Taeleifi admitted she and defendant were involved in a relationship. Taeleifi then gave the officers permission to search the house for anything indicating defendant's whereabouts. Officer Ramirez located a man's jacket in a bedroom closet. He picked up the jacket and felt something heavy in one of the pockets. He recovered a .38 caliber revolver. Taeleifi stated that the jacket belonged to defendant, and that he had placed it in the closet several days earlier.

Defendant was subsequently arrested. He filed a pretrial discovery motion in which he requested records relating to complaints filed against the four officers "for any instance of relevant conduct, including: illegal search and seizure, improper handling of evidence, failure to follow standard and/or outlined police procedure, neglect of duty, dishonesty or deceit in the performance of duty, false arrest, fabrication of evidence or charges, or untruthfulness in the preparation of offense reports or while testifying under oath" and "for any act involving morally lax character." The information requested included: the names, addresses, phone numbers and custody status of persons filing such complaints; copies of police reports of the underlying incidents; statements and notes made during the investigation of the complaints; the names of persons investigating the complaints; investigation procedures; and the results of any investigations relating to the complaints.

Defendant's discovery motion was accompanied by the police report, as well as the declaration of defense counsel, which stated: "Defendant disputes the truthfulness of the allegations as set forth in the police report. At a motion to suppress and at trial if necessary, defendant intends to show the following: [p] a. That knowing and voluntary consent to enter was not in fact obtained by the officers; and [p] b. That material misrepresentations in the police report and/or in court testimony were made in order to conceal that fact; and [p] c. That evidence disclosed during that search was mishandled by the officers to such an extent as to deny [defendant] a fair trial."

Defense counsel's declaration asserted that the peace officers' personnel records would be "relevant and admissible to show a propensity to act in such manner in the course of duty on this occasion," that the records "may be used to refresh the recollection of defense witnesses called to testify regarding such traits of character and/or to effectively cross-examine witnesses called by the People" and that the records "may also lead to additional admissible evidence through the efforts of the defense investigation." 2

The City filed opposition to defendant's discovery motion. The City first argued the trial court should summarily deny defendant's discovery motion as to Officers Berry and Brooks because the police report was written by Officer Knox and it indicated only Officer Ramirez conducted the search. The City further argued that defendant failed to make a showing of "good cause for the discovery or disclosure sought" (Evid.Code, § 1043, subd. (b)(3)), in that he failed to provide adequate factual allegations to support the motion, and in that his request was overbroad and vague.

At the hearing on defendant's discovery motion, held January 28, 1998, the trial court found "good cause shown to go ahead and conduct an in camera [review]" of the peace officers' personnel records to determine whether any of the records were relevant and should be released. (See Evid.Code, § 1045, subd. (a).) The trial court rejected the City's argument that the discovery motion should be limited to Officers Knox and Ramirez, ruling that defendant's "allegation of untruthfulness with regard to the consent issue ... would apply to all of the officers." The trial court also denied the City's request to limit its in camera review of the peace officers' personnel records to "the illegal search and seizure issue," ruling that the records "would relate to credibility issues." The trial court explained: "Essentially it's failure to follow proper procedures, and it's credibility issues to the extent there are complaints on those areas, and I think they are included."

After conducting the in camera review of the peace officers' personnel records, the trial court ruled that it would release "the names and telephone numbers of certain complain[ing] witnesses ... with regard to four separate cases," as well as "the results of internal investigation" with regard to those four cases.

On March 12, 1998, the City sought review of the trial court's order in this court, by way of petition for writ of mandate or, in the alternative, a writ of prohibition. On March 24, 1998, we filed an order staying the trial court's order requiring disclosure of the peace officers' personnel records. We ordered the trial court to transmit to this court a complete copy of the reporter's transcript of the January 28, 1998 proceedings, including the sealed transcript of the in camera hearing as well as copies of all records it had ordered disclosed. We ordered the City to file under seal copies of all records that the trial court had been provided with at the in camera hearing. On June 19, 1998, we issued an alternative writ of mandate and order to show cause to real party in interest.

Statutory Background

In Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531, 113 Cal.Rptr. 897, 522 P.2d 305, the defendant was charged with battery against four deputy sheriffs. Prior to trial, he moved for discovery of records of investigations of citizens' accusations of excessive force by the four deputies. The defendant asserted that at trial he would claim that he acted in self-defense in response to the deputies' use of excessive force and argued that the requested records were necessary as character evidence regarding the deputies' tendency for violence supporting his defense.

The California Supreme Court held that a criminal defendant has a limited right to discovery of peace officer personnel records "based on the fundamental proposition that he [or she] is entitled to a fair trial and an intelligent defense in light of all relevant and reasonably accessible information." (Pitchess v. Superior Court, supra, 11 Cal.3d at p. 535, 113 Cal.Rptr. 897, 522 P.2d 305.) The court noted that "in contrast to the formal requirements of civil discovery, an accused in a criminal prosecution may compel discovery by demonstrating that the requested information will facilitate the ascertainment of facts and a fair trial." (Id. at p. 536, 113 Cal.Rptr. 897, 522 P.2d 305.) The court explained that "[t]he requisite showing may be satisfied by general allegations which establish some cause for discovery other than 'a mere desire for the benefit of all information which has been obtained by the People in their investigation of the crime.' [Citations.]" (Id. at p. 537, 113...

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