Can a police officer's personnel file be used as evidence at trial in a civil case?

California, United States of America

The following excerpt is from Briley v. Appellate Div. Of Superior Court, 124 Cal.App.4th 1223, 22 Cal.Rptr.3d 240 (Cal. App. 2004):

Pitchess, like this case, involved a defendant who claimed self-defense when he was accused of battery against the arresting officers. In that case, unlike this one, what he sought for trial was information concerning prior complaints of unauthorized use of force against other persons by the officers. The purpose of his motion was to obtain this information, which was otherwise protected from disclosure because it was part of the officer's personnel file, because it was nonetheless relevant and material to his defense. "Pitchess ... and its statutory progeny are based on the premise that evidence contained in a law enforcement officer's personnel file may be relevant to an accused's criminal defense and that to withhold such relevant evidence from the defendant would violate the accused's due process right to a fair trial." (People v. Mooc (2001) 26 Cal.4th 1216, 1227, 114 Cal.Rptr.2d 482, 36 P.3d 21.) To balance the privacy rights of the officers and the departments' need to conduct a full, fair and timely investigation of complaints against the rights of the accused, the Pitchess court established a requirement of a showing of good cause, coupled with an in camera review by the court to prevent disclosure of information not relevant to the defense.

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