Last fall, we wrote about two pieces of legislation signed into law by former California Governor Jerry Brown. They are SB 1421 and AB 748; the former grants the public access to investigations involving officer shootings and other significant uses of force. The latter gives law enforcement 45 days to release body camera footage and other recordings of incidents involving use of force.
The bills came about in response to a growing public outcry over the use of force by police. It isn’t a secret that police shootings are hot button topic of late, particularly instances involving unarmed black men. Some of the officers who are caught up in questionable use of force cases may have a history of breaking protocols or abuses like racial discrimination.
However, California has strict laws protecting officer personnel files, according to The Los Angeles Times. In some ways, the laws above fly in the face of officer privacy protections. SB 1421 does not apply to the broader range of misconduct that could put an officer’s record in the spotlight, such as domestic abuse, sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and bribery.
The Rights of Officers vs Defendants
Last week, the California Supreme Court was divided over whether or not prosecutors should be provided the names of deputies who have committed misconduct, according to the article. At the heart of this case is a famous 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland. SCOTUS ruled that the suppression of evidence favorable to the defense violated due process.
In California, law enforcement agencies and unions are fighting to keep their officers’ past misdeeds out of court and away from the public’s eye. If district attorneys do not have all the facts about their witnesses, it could result in the overturning of convictions on appeal.
“The prosecution can’t take an ostrich-like approach to this very important duty,” said Justice Goodwin Liu.
The case before the California Supreme Court originates from a lawsuit filed by the L.A. deputies’ union to prevent former Sheriff Jim McDonnell from sharing some 300 names of deputies with misconduct on their record, the article reports.
In 2017, Los Angeles Court of Appeals ruled that the names must be kept secret despite Brady vs. Maryland. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye suggested that the Legislature might want to take the reins on the subject of disclosure. We will continue to follow this case as it develops.
Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney
Please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower if you are facing criminal charges in California. Attorney Brower has the knowledge and experience to help you achieve a favorable outcome in your case.