People v. Municipal Court (Bonner)

Decision Date15 April 1980
Citation104 Cal.App.3d 685,163 Cal.Rptr. 822
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of California, Petitioner and Appellant, v. SAN BERNARDINO MUNICIPAL COURT DISTRICT, West Valley Division, Respondent, Susan Michelle BONNER, Real Party in Interest. Civ. 21285.
OPINION

KAUFMAN, Associate Justice.

The People appeal from a judgment denying their petition for writs of prohibition and mandate. The appeal is meritorious, and the judgment will be reversed with directions to the trial court to issue a peremptory writ of mandate.

Facts

Susan Michelle Bonner (real party in interest) was charged in the San Bernardino County Municipal Court District, West Valley Division, with unlawfully using force and violence upon the person of Ontario Police Officer Richard Condon, knowing that he was a police officer engaged in the performance of his duty. (Pen.Code, § 243.) Through counsel real party noticed a motion for discovery, seeking, inter alia, any and all complaints filed against Officer Condon relating to excessive force in the performance of his duties and copies of any and all police reports prepared by Officer Condon in the preceding three years concerning alleged violations of Penal Code sections 148 (resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer in the discharge of his duty) or 243 (battery upon a peace officer in the performance of his duties). 1

After argument, the court granted real party's motion for discovery as to the two items just specified. 2 Although that part of the court's order does not appear in its minutes, statements by the court in subsequent proceedings disclose that with respect to the order for discovery of any police reports prepared by Officer Condon in the preceding three years relating to violations of Penal Code sections 148 and 243, the court contemplated that real party or her representatives would be given free access to the area in which such records were kept and would, at real party's expense, be permitted to rummage through the records in an attempt to find some that might be useful to the defense and thereafter make copies of them.

Subsequently, the People moved for a rehearing and for permission to present oral testimony. The basis for this motion was that the area in which the records were kept was such and the manner in which the records were kept and indexed was such that it would be an enormous job to locate reports prepared by any specific officer with respect to violations of any specific code section and that, furthermore, permitting real party or her representatives free access to the area in which the records were kept would violate a number of statutes relating to confidentiality of the records. The People's motion was denied, presumably because it was untimely.

Thereafter the People complied with that portion of the order requiring it to furnish any and all complaints filed against Officer Condon relating to excessive force in the performance of his duties, but the People declined to comply with the order insofar as it authorized discovery of all reports prepared by Officer Condon relating to violations of Penal Code sections 148 and 243 in the preceding three years. Real party moved for sanctions, and the court ordered that the testimony of Officer Condon be suppressed.

The People then filed in San Bernardino Superior Court a petition for writs of mandate and prohibition to require the municipal court to vacate the discovery order and the order for sanctions. In the petition the facts recited above were alleged and in addition it was alleged that the People had opposed the discovery motion "on the grounds that it sought information which was irrelevant to the matter and that the showing offered in support of the motion was inadequate." The superior court issued alternative writs of prohibition and mandate together with a stay order. Real party filed her answer and concurrently a demurrer. The matter came on for hearing, and the court denied the petition for peremptory writs, concluding that the municipal court had not abused its discretion in making the discovery order and imposing the sanctions it did.

Contentions and Discussion

On appeal the People contend that on the showing made by real party in the municipal court, the court was bound to deny the discovery motion, at least with respect to the unrelated police reports prepared by Officer Condon in the preceding three years relating to violations of Penal Code sections 148 and 243. The People further contend that even if the discovery order was proper, the sanction of suppressing all testimony by Officer Condon was excessive and constituted an abuse of discretion. Real party contends to the contrary in each instance and in addition contends that the People had no right to seek a writ in the superior court in the first place.

The Merits

If the People have a remedy by way of writ, there can be no question as to the outcome of the case on the merits. A motion by an accused in a criminal case for discovery must be supported by a showing of plausible justification for production of the items requested. (Hill v. Superior Court, 10 Cal.3d 812, 817, 112 Cal.Rptr. 257, 518 P.2d 1353; Joe Z. v. Superior Court, 3 Cal.3d 797, 804, 91 Cal.Rptr. 594, 478 P.2d 26; Lemelle v. Superior Court, 77 Cal.App.3d 148, 162, 164, 143 Cal.Rptr. 450; see also Pitchess v. Superior Court, 11 Cal.3d 531, 536-538, 113 Cal.Rptr. 897, 522 P.2d 305; Craig v. Municipal Court (Gregory), 100 Cal.App.3d 69, 72-73, 161 Cal.Rptr. 7.) The accused must demonstrate that the requested information will facilitate the ascertainment of the facts and a fair trial. (Pitchess v. Superior Court, supra, 11 Cal.3d at p. 536, 113 Cal.Rptr. 897, 522 P.2d 305; Lemelle v. Superior Court, supra, 77 Cal.App.3d at p. 162, 143 Cal.Rptr. 450; Bortin v. Superior Court, 64 Cal.App.3d 873, 878, 135 Cal.Rptr. 30.)

The showing made by real party in support of her motion is nonexistent. The only declaration filed in support of the motion for discovery was one executed by real party's attorney in which he declared that he was real party's attorney in the matter; that he was informed and believed that defendant was charged with battery upon a police officer under Penal Code section 243; that the police officer involved was Officer Richard Condon of the Ontario Police Department; that he was informed and believed that the conduct of Officer Condon towards real party was material and relevant to the defense of the defendant "in that the degree of provocation and the issue of self defense may in fact be an issue at said trial"; and that it was not possible to obtain the requested information through the efforts of defense counsel without an order of the court.

No attempt was made in the declaration to indicate what real party would hope to find or be looking for in the unrelated police reports prepared by Officer Condon in the preceding three years, nor was there any indication whatever of how those unrelated reports might facilitate the ascertainment of the facts and a fair trial. The utter insufficiency of the declaration to establish plausible justification for production of these wholly unrelated reports is best demonstrated by its perusal. A copy is therefore attached to this opinion as Appendix A.

This court recently had occasion to discuss the request of an accused for the production of such unrelated reports prepared by the officer in Lemelle v. Superior Court, supra, 77 Cal.App.3d 148, 143 Cal.Rptr. 450. There, the accused had submitted a declaration in which it was stated that the declarant was informed and believed " 'that each of said officers have individually and in furtherance of a conspiracy filed baseless charges against persons accusing the latter of committing acts against the former violative of sections 148 P.C., 242 P.C. and 243 P.C. and in support of which charges have made certain crime and arrest reports against said persons all in (an) effort to conceal and obfuscate the true state of facts, namely that said officers or either of them were the aggressors and committed unnecessary acts of aggressive behavior, violence, excessive force or acts demonstrating racial and/or ethnic prejudice.' " (77 Cal.App.3d at p. 163, 143 Cal.Rptr. at p. 459.) Even on that showing we characterized the usefulness to the accused of the reports sought as "speculative and remote at best." We stated: "It is conceivable, however, that from such reports defendant would gain knowledge of incidents similar to the one in which he was involved and the names of persons similarly charged by the officers which, in turn, might lead to admissible evidence tending to show the use of excessive force by the officers on prior occasions. It appears, therefore, that defendant has shown 'some cause for discovery other than "a mere desire for the benefit of all information . . ." ' . . . and has satisfied the requirement of plausible justification as to this item." (77 Cal.App.3d at p. 164, 143 Cal.Rptr. at p. 460.)

In the case at bench, there is no averment or allegation that Officer Condon habitually used excessive force or, more to the point, no averment that he was in the habit of making false reports accusing persons of resisting arrest or battery upon a police officer. Thus, the usefulness shown in Lemelle which we characterized as "speculative and remote at best," is here entirely nonexistent.

The record indicates that the district attorney opposed the discovery motion on grounds that the material sought was irrelevant and that no sufficient showing had been made to support an order for its production. In the absence of any showing whatever, the municipal court could only exercise its discretion in one way, namely, to deny the ...

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