People v. Pearson

Decision Date09 May 1952
Docket NumberCr. 4749
Citation111 Cal.App.2d 9,244 P.2d 35
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Edmund G. Brown, Atty. Gen., Frank Richards, Deputy Atty. Gen., S. Ernest Roll, Dist. Atty., Ralph F. Bagley, Deputy Dist. Atty., Los Angeles, for respondent.

Murray M. Chotiner, Beverly Hills, for appellant.

MOORE, Presiding Justice.

Having been convicted of violating section 6200 of the Government Code 1 appellant made his motion for a new trial. This having been denied (as well as his motion in arrest of judgment) the proceedings were suspended and he was placed on probation for three years. His appeal is from the order denying the motion. He grounds his demand for reversal on the insufficiency of the evidence, technical errors in rulings at the trial and the unconstitutionality of the statute.

Pearson had been in the Sheriff's service for 26 years and Captain of the Vice Squad for three years. As such official he had intruded into countless criminal activities, investigated numerous personalities of the underworld, offended the overlords of vice and directed the manifold operations of his division of the Sheriff's office with intelligence and success. As captain it was his function to make investigations of such suspected persons or organizations as were designated by the sheriff or undersheriff and, at times, by other officers, to make reports in writing to the sheriff of his performances. Such labors required him to preserve in orderly fashion all communications to himself and carbon copies of his own letters to his superiors and to the world outside. In his files reposed also certain memoranda in his own writing destined to be a conspicuous exhibit at the trial. Such files were kept by appellant during his incumbency in due course. They contained much confidential information that ordinarily was never seen by eyes not in the county service.

When Pearson was relieved of his command of the vice squad and transferred to the communications division on August 7, 1950, he had accumulated quite a volume of such reports, correspondence and other writings, which during his three years there had been locked in steel cabinets. At the time of preparing to depart for his new assignment, the combination on the safe was changed. He then called upon his successor, Captain Frank O. Smith, to witness that he had a file of papers that belonged to him personally that did not concern anyone else. He requested leave to store them in the safe in Smith's office. At the same time Lawrence Schaffer, a deputy sheriff, sergeant of the vice squad and long time associate of Pearson, heard the conversation and remembered the repository of the papers which filled the only folders left by the departing captain. The change of the combination on the safe, made as per custom, left no one with knowledge of the new figures except Captain Smith and Sergeant Schaffer. The contents remained undisturbed until December 10, 1950. Prior to that date Captain Smith had not given anyone permission to remove the treasured documents.

On the afternoon of that December day, Pearson attempted to reach Captain Smith by telephone to gain release of the papers. Being unsuccessful he contacted Schaffer who agreed to take them from the safe and bring them to Pearson at 8th and Olive streets. 2 He wrapped them in a newspaper and set forth on his fateful mission. At the designated rendezvous they were near the office of attorney Rummel who at that time was attorney for Saul Davis and others suspected of gambling violations and represented underworld characters connected with the activities which Pearson as head of the vice squad had investigated and against whom he and his minions had produced evidence of crimes. Pearson requested Schaffer to accompany him to Rummel's office. Whe the captain met the attorney in the latter's sanctum, the sergeant retired to a chair on the opposite side, waited and witnessed. Pearson removed several sheets, had Rummel scan them, and Schaffer heard the attorney's commendation of Pearson's work in investigating 1747 1/2 East Florence Avenue, address of the Guarantee Finance Company whose chief operators had been indicted in November, 1949. See People v. Kobey, 105 Cal.App.2d 548, 234 P.2d 251. Pearson extracted several sheets from the file, put them in his pocket and kept them. Pearson told Rummel he had prepared and accumulated the contents of the file ever since he had appeard before the grand jury prior to March, 1950. Rummel said, 'You look in good shape. Everything is o. k.' From such conversation, it is a fair inference that Pearson was seeking the opinion of the attorney to the effect that Pearson had diligently pursued the gamblers and bookmakers operating in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. 3 Schaffer returned the files to their place in Captain Smith's office at 8:05 on the following morning. Immediately thereafter he telephoned Pearson at his office and inquired to whom he should report the fact of his having been in Rummel's office. Pearson promised to make the report and requested the Sergeant to leave it in his hands.

The Evidence is Sufficient

The crime charged to Captain Pearson is not that he aided a guilty party to escape, or disclosed evidence he had against those mentioned in his reports or otherwise gave comfort to vice elements under investigation. He was convicted of having, while a deputy sheriff, in violation of section 6200, supra, removed certain papers on file in the office of the sheriff of Los Angeles county, a public office. The question of his intent is not involved. The mere doing of an act forbidden by the statute is the sum total of the judgment against him.

The papers were not the property of the individual, Carl H. Pearson. Some had been prepared by him for the grand jury to show the work that had been done by the Vice Squad in running down criminal elements. Some were letters from the sheriff upon reported crimes; some were Pearson's replies to his superior; some were communications from citizens giving evidence of criminal activities; others were in Pearson's own writing he had used while testifying before the grand jury in the spring of 1950. He testified that many of the papers he had shown to Rummel were official records notwithstanding his statement to Captain Smith that they were his own private papers. No one had inspected or seen the papers after August 7, 1950, until Schaffer took them to Pearson and to Rummel's office. Knowing what 'records' Pearson wished to have out of his former quarters it was not difficult for Schaffer to go directly to the safe and remove them. He wrapped them in a newspaper for delivery. Pearson admitted having removed from the package the recapitulation of Vice Detail activities and the sheet showing the locations suspected of having been used by the Guarantee Finance. He told the Grand Jury that he took to defense counsel a great many official records along with his 'pencil notes in this package.' Another sheet taken to Rummel was a record of arrests theretofore made in the Hollywood Strip area in 1948 and 1949.

Such proof leaves no room for doubt that Pearson violated the statute. Conceding Schaffer to have been an accomplice which he without doubt had been, he was generously corroborated by appellant's own testimony. Pearson was an officer within the contemplation of section 6200. Gov't Code, secs. 24000, 24100; People v. Purcell, 22 Cal.App.2d 126, 133, 70 P.2d 706; People v. Otto, 77 Cal. 45, 47, 18 P. 869. He testified that he caused another to take from a public office papers of a confidential character, of value to law-enforcing agencies; that he secreted some of them and others he exhibited to an agent of the enemies of the State. Therefore, since upon honest inferences and indisputable facts the guilt of appellant is established, the reviewing court is powerless to interfere with the judgment. People v. Newland, 15 Cal.2d 678, 681, 104 P.2d 778; People v. Tompkins, 109 Cal.App.2d 215, 240 P.2d 356; People v. Schoeller, 96 Cal.App.2d 55, 60, 214 P.2d 572.

His guilt is neither erased nor minimized because his own hand did not lift the records and remove them from the sheriff's office. Since he was interested in the removal, People v. Delgado, 28 Cal.App.2d 665, 669, 83 P.2d 512, and as a superior officer ordered the removal by the sergeant, his long-time associate, he was properly convicted as a principal. People v. Coffey, 161 Cal. 433, 439, 119 P. 901, 39 L.R.A.,N.S., 704. Although absent from the office, by advising, encouraging and abetting the sergeant to accomplish the removal, Pearson became a principal. People v. Young, 132 Cal.App.2d 770, 771, 23 P.2d 524. All persons concerned in the commission of a felony are principals. (Penal Code, sec. 971.) Pearson called upon Schaffer to remove the papers because the latter was the only available person who had access to the safe. But without regard to his being the only person present who knew the combination he followed the orders of his former captain, became his partner in crime by voluntarily uniting with Pearson in violating the statute. People v. Lima, 25 Cal.2d 573, 578, 154 P.2d 698. His entire narrative of the events is corroborated by appellant's testimony.

The contention that the papers removed were not public records is a mere quibble. They were kept by the Sheriff's office as evidence of what had been done, of what was to be done and proof of activities of those elements against whom the law-enforcing agencies should be on the alert. They were convenient to an expeditious discharge of the duties of the sheriff's office and they were necessary to the enlightenment of the Sheriff as to past failures and achievements and to current endeavors. They were not open to public inspection. The sheriff's office would be handicapped in enforcing the laws if at every sunset vicious elements...

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35 cases
  • Bom v. Superior Court
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • January 6, 2020
    ...county officers and their deputies are officers for purposes of Government Code section 6200. (See, e.g., People v. Pearson (1952) 111 Cal.App.2d 9, 17, 244 P.2d 35 ( Pearson ).) Thus, because a sheriff is a statutorily enumerated county officer ( Gov. Code, § 24000, subd. (b) ), a deputy s......
  • Loder v. Municipal Court
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    • California Supreme Court
    • September 2, 1976 kept by a public officer in the discharge of his duties, and hence is within the scope of the statute. (See People v. Pearson (1952) 111 Cal.App.2d 9, 31, 244 P.2d 35.) And inasmuch as no showing of specific intent is required by the statute, an officer who knowingly removes or destroys ......
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    • California Supreme Court
    • April 29, 1958
    ...107 P.2d 455.) The uncorroborated testimony of the accomplices was sufficient to establish the corpus delicti. (People v. Pearson (1939), 111 Cal.App.2d 9, 29(37), 244 P.2d 35; People v. Snyder (1925), 74 Cal.App. 138, 143-144(5), 239 P. 705.) We are satisfied that in the circumstances of t......
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    • August 27, 1968
    ...confidence); People v. Wilkins, 135 Cal.App.2d 371, 377, 287 P.2d 555 (confidential records of police department); People v. Pearson, 111 Cal.App.2d 9, 18, 244 P.2d 35 (confidential records of sheriff's In Runyon, supra, the applicable rule is stated thusly: '(T)he courts have consistenly d......
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1 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 169 No. 3, February 2021
    • February 1, 2021
    ...155 A.2d 670, 670 (Md. 1959) ("[I]n the absence of statutory requirement, police records are confidential."); People v. Pearson, 244 P.2d 35, 35 (Cal. Dist. Ct. App. 1952) (referencing the idea that police records are confidential and necessary for public safety); Runyon v. Bd. of Prison Te......

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