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Name: People v. Superior Court (Johnson)
Case #: A140768
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 08/11/2014
Subsequent History: Review granted 10/29/2014: S221296

Prosecution may have direct access to police personnel files in order to fulfill its constitutional duty under Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83 to identify exculpatory evidence. During prosecution of a domestic violence case, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) informed the prosecutor that several officer witnesses had material in their personnel files that may be subject to a Brady disclosure duty. The prosecution motioned the trial court under Evidence Code sections 1043 and 1045 to conduct the initial Brady materiality review of the officers’ files, arguing that Penal Code section 832.7, subdivision (a) did not allow it direct access to the files. In response, the defense requested that the trial court either conduct the requested Brady review, or allow the prosecution to directly access the officers’ files. The trial court found the prosecution had made an insufficient showing of Brady materiality for it to review the files and ordered that the prosecution be given direct access to the files. The prosecutor and SFPD petitioned to vacate the trial court’s order. Held: Mandate denied on this issue. The prosecution has a duty to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, including evidence known only to the police. Penal Code section 832.7, subdivision (a), part of the codification of Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531 (upholding defendants’ right to discover misconduct complaints in police personnel files), provides that police personnel files are confidential and may be disclosed in a criminal proceeding only pursuant to a section 1043 motion. In complying with Brady there are two stages: identification and disclosure. Section 832.7 does not prohibit prosecutorial access to police files during the identification stage—it specifies procedures for the disclosure stage. Prosecution inspection of police personnel files for a Brady review is not a breach of confidentiality under section 832.7 (disagreeing with People v. Gutierrez (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 1463 and Abatti v. Superior Court (2003) 112 Cal.App.4th 39). This interpretation of section 832.7 avoids serious constitutional questions.

The prosecution must file a section 1043 motion prior to disclosing Brady material in a police personnel file. The trial court incorrectly determined that the prosecution could disclose Brady material to the defense without following the Pitchess motion procedures for disclosure. While section 832.7, subdivision (a) does not prevent direct prosecutorial access to police personnel files to identify Brady material, the prosecution may not disclose any Brady material to the defendant without first obtaining a court order pursuant to section 1043.