A Pitchess motion is a request made by a defendant in a criminal action for access to information in the personnel file of an arresting police officer. The name “Pitchess” comes from a 1974 California Supreme Court case, Pitchess v. Superior Court, 11 Cal. 3d 531 (Cal. 1974). The Pitchess process is now codified in California Evidence Code Sections 1043-47.
The theory underlying a Pitchess motion is that a defendant should be entitled to any information that is relevant to his/her defense. If the arresting officer’s personnel file contains information that might bear on the defendant’s claim that the officer had engaged in misconduct, as a matter of fairness, the defendant should have access to that information. However both the legislature and the courts have recognized that the police officer whose records are sought has an equally compelling interest in maintaining the privacy of his/her personnel file. Therefore the Pitchess hearing process prescribed by law tries to ensure an appropriate balance of these two competing interests.
California Evidence Code Sections 1043 on Pitchess Process.
Cal Evid Code § 1043. Discovery or disclosure of peace officer's personnel records
(a) In any case in which discovery or disclosure is sought of peace or custodial officer personnel records or records maintained pursuant to Section 832.5 of the Penal Code or information from those records, the party seeking the discovery or disclosure shall file a written motion with the appropriate court or administrative body upon written notice to the governmental agency which has custody and control of the records. The written notice shall be given at the times prescribed by subdivision (b) of Section 1005 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Upon receipt of the notice the governmental agency served shall immediately notify the individual whose records are sought.
(b) The motion shall include all of the following:
(1) Identification of the proceeding in which discovery or disclosure is sought, the party seeking discovery or disclosure, the peace or custodial officer whose records are sought, the governmental agency which has custody and control of the records, and the time and place at which the motion for discovery or disclosure shall be heard.
(2) A description of the type of records or information sought.
(3) Affidavits showing good cause for the discovery or disclosure sought, setting forth the materiality thereof to the subject matter involved in the pending litigation and stating upon reasonable belief that the governmental agency identified has the records or information from the records.
(c) No hearing upon a motion for discovery or disclosure shall be held without full compliance with the notice provisions of this section except upon a showing by the moving party of good cause for noncompliance, or upon a waiver of the hearing by the governmental agency identified as having the records.