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Name: People v. Sanderson
Case #: E047284
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 02/09/2010

In a Pitchess motion to initiate discovery of information in the personnel files of police officers, a defendant must present a specific factual scenario of officer misconduct that is plausible when read in light of the pertinent documents. Assertions denying the elements of the crime, alone, are not sufficient. Appellant was charged with criminal threats stemming from an incident where he telephoned the victims and made threats over the speaker phone while two police officers were present. Prior to trial, appellant filed a Pitchess motion for discovery of the officers personnel records, requesting documents relating to dishonesty and/or falsifying police reports. (Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531.) In an attached declaration, defendant denied making statements attributed to him by the officers. The trial court denied the motion, stating that it was overbroad. The appellate court upheld the ruling, finding no abuse of discretion. As discussed by the appellate court, a defendant may be entitled to discovery of a police officer’s confidential personnel records that contain information relevant to the defendant’s defense if he can show that the personnel records are material to his or her defense, and if he states a reasonable belief that the records contain the type of information sought. Defendant must establish a factual foundation for his defense, which he can do by presenting a specific factual scenario of officer misconduct that might or could have occurred and that is plausible when read in light of the pertinent documents. Here, appellant merely denied that he made the threatening statements. He did not deny making the phone call or engaging in a conversation when the police were present. As such, he failed to present an alternate version of the facts and the trial court acted in its discretion when it made a common sense determination that appellant’s version of the events was not plausible.