Supreme Court of California Justia
Citation 46 Cal. 4th 172, 205 P.3d 1074, 92 Cal. Rptr. 3d 627

People v. Gaines

Filed 4/30/09

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

THE PEOPLE,
Plaintiff and Respondent,
S157008
v.
Ct.App. 2/4 B192177
RODNEY LOUIS GAINES,
Los Angeles County
Defendant and Appellant.
Super. Ct. No. MA032254

A criminal defendant, on a showing of good cause, is entitled to discovery
of information in the confidential personnel records of a peace officer when that
information is relevant to defend against a criminal charge. (Pen. Code, § 832.7;
Evid. Code, § 1043 et seq.; see Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531
(Pitchess).) In this case, the Court of Appeal determined that the trial court abused
its discretion by summarily denying defendant’s Pitchess motion without first
examining the requested records in camera to determine whether they contained
relevant information. The Court of Appeal conditionally reversed the judgment of
conviction and remanded the matter to permit the trial court to conduct an in
camera review of the requested personnel records. If the trial court’s inspection
uncovered no relevant information, the trial court was to reinstate the judgment.
If, on the other hand, relevant information was discovered during the in camera
review, the trial court was to order disclosure, allow defendant an opportunity to
demonstrate prejudice from the failure to disclose the relevant information, and
1


order a new trial if there was a reasonable probability the outcome would have
been different had the information been disclosed.
The parties agree that the trial court erred in failing to review the requested
records in camera and that a remand is the appropriate remedy to permit the trial
court to conduct that review. The parties further agree that if the in camera review
uncovers no relevant information, the judgment should be reinstated. The dispute
centers on the remainder of the disposition ordered by the Court of Appeal.
Defendant argues that if the in camera review uncovers any information that ought
to have been disclosed, the trial court’s error in failing to order that disclosure
prior to trial should be deemed reversible per se or, alternatively, that the judgment
should be reversed unless the People can show that the failure to disclose the
information was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The People, as did the
Court of Appeal, believe that the burden of establishing prejudice from any error
in failing to disclose relevant information lies with defendant, and that the proper
standard of prejudice is whether there is a reasonable probability of a different
result had the information been disclosed.
We conclude that the trial court’s erroneous denial of a Pitchess motion is
not reversible per se. Rather, the failure to disclose relevant information in
confidential personnel files, like other discovery errors, is reversible only if there
is a reasonable probability of a different result had the information been disclosed.
We therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal, with one minor
modification to the disposition.
2
BACKGROUND1
On June 11, 2005, Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Roger Izzo was
conducting undercover surveillance of a home in Lancaster where he believed
narcotics were being sold. Some people left the house in a maroon minivan, and
Deputy Izzo followed the minivan as it proceeded to a liquor store about half a
mile away. He directed Deputies Steven Lehrman and Christopher McMaster to
stop the minivan when it exited the area. As Izzo waited for the minivan’s
occupants to come out of the store, defendant Rodney Louis Gaines approached
Izzo’s unmarked vehicle and asked him whether he “smoked the white.”
Defendant offered to sell whatever Izzo might want and claimed he “had it all.”
Although Izzo declined the offer, defendant spit a small black plastic bindle into
his hand and presented it to Izzo. After Izzo reiterated that he was not interested
in buying drugs, defendant walked away.
Izzo then contacted the other two deputies and asked them to detain
defendant for offering to sell drugs. While Izzo continued to wait, defendant again
approached and handed Izzo a small piece of cocaine base, later determined to
weigh .03 grams, and a glass pipe used for smoking the drug. Defendant said,
“This one [is] on me. Hit this. You’ll like it.”
Moments later, when Deputies Lehrman and McMaster drove into the
parking lot, defendant turned and walked quickly away. As he did so, he put his
right hand to his mouth. McMaster ordered defendant several times to stop and,
when he did not comply, grabbed him by the shirt and ordered him to get down on
the ground. Lehrman noticed that defendant’s mouth was clenched closed; he

1
These background facts are taken largely from the recital contained in the
Court of Appeal opinion.
3


appeared to be chewing for a moment and then swallowed. When defendant
finally opened his mouth, Lehrman saw white residue on his tongue and inside his
mouth.
Izzo gave the other deputies the glass pipe and the .03 gram piece of
cocaine in a base form.
Defendant, a convicted felon and admitted cocaine addict, denied offering
to sell Izzo any drugs, denied spitting a bindle of drugs into his hand, and denied
handing Izzo a pipe or cocaine. He testified at trial that he had gone to the liquor
store to panhandle for money to buy cocaine. While there, he saw a fellow
panhandler, an older man, go over to a car. When the panhandler returned, he
offered to give defendant a piece of cocaine in exchange for use of his pipe.
Defendant handed the panhandler his pipe. About 10 minutes later, the panhandler
left the parking lot and indicated he had left defendant’s pipe on the side of a large
trash receptacle. Defendant went back to the alley to retrieve his pipe and stuck
the pipe in his sock. When he returned to the parking lot, Deputy Izzo called him
over and asked whether he had any “rock” for sale. Defendant replied, “I don’t
sell rock, I just use it.”
Suddenly, and without warning, Deputy McMaster grabbed him by the shirt
and forced him to the ground. McMaster spotted the glass pipe in defendant’s
sock and ordered defendant to remove his socks and shoes. As defendant removed
his left sock, a “little white speck hit the ground.” Defendant thought the
panhandler must have left the cocaine base in the pipe for him.
A jury convicted defendant of possessing cocaine base (Health & Saf.
Code, § 11350) and possessing a smoking device (id., § 11364, subd. (a)).
Defendant then admitted a prior strike conviction and seven prior prison term
allegations and was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
4
The Court of Appeal determined that the trial court had erred in summarily
denying defendant’s Pitchess motion without first conducting an in camera review
of the requested records. In the trial court, defendant had sought records relating
to whether the deputies had previously falsified police records, planted evidence,
or committed acts demonstrating dishonesty, and the Court of Appeal found that
defendant’s showing satisfied “the ‘ “relatively low threshold for discovery” ’ ”
under our precedents. The Court of Appeal conditionally reversed the judgment
and remanded the case to permit the trial court to conduct an in camera review of
the requested peace officer personnel records. The Court of Appeal’s disposition
provided that “[i]f the trial court’s inspection on remand reveals no relevant
information, the trial court must reinstate the judgment of conviction and sentence,
which shall stand affirmed. If the inspection reveals relevant information, the trial
court must order disclosure, allow appellant an opportunity to demonstrate
prejudice, and order a new trial if there is a reasonable probability the outcome
would have been different had the information been disclosed.”
We granted review on a single issue: “Is outright reversal or a remand for a
showing of prejudice the appropriate remedy for a trial court’s erroneous denial of
a Pitchess motion (Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531)?”
DISCUSSION
This court has reviewed at length in several recent cases the background
and mechanics of the procedures by which a party may discover relevant evidence
in confidential peace officer personnel records. (See, e.g., Garcia v. Superior
Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 63; Warrick v. Superior Court (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1011;
Alford v. Superior Court (2003) 29 Cal.4th 1033; City of Los Angeles v. Superior
Court (2002) 29 Cal.4th 1.) It is sufficient here to reiterate that, on a showing of
good cause, a criminal defendant is entitled to discovery of relevant documents or
information in the confidential personnel records of a peace officer accused of
5
misconduct against the defendant. (Evid. Code, § 1043, subd. (b).) Good cause
for discovery exists when the defendant shows both “ ‘materiality’ to the subject
matter of the pending litigation and a ‘reasonable belief’ that the agency has the
type of information sought.” (City of Santa Cruz v. Municipal Court (1989) 49
Cal.3d 74, 84.) A showing of good cause is measured by “relatively relaxed
standards” that serve to “insure the production” for trial court review of “all
potentially relevant documents.” (Ibid.) If the defendant establishes good cause,
the court must review the requested records in camera to determine what
information, if any, should be disclosed. (Chambers v. Superior Court (2007) 42
Cal.4th 673, 679.) Subject to certain statutory exceptions and limitations (see
Evid. Code, § 1045, subds. (b)-(e)), “the trial court should then disclose to the
defendant ‘such information [that] is relevant to the subject matter involved in the
litigation.’ ” (People v. Mooc (2001) 26 Cal.4th 1216, 1226, quoting Evid. Code,
§ 1045, subd. (a); see also Warrick v. Superior Court, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p.
1019.)
Applying this framework, the Court of Appeal determined that the trial
court had erred in rejecting defendant’s showing of good cause to justify an in
camera review of the requested records. Defendant, representing himself in
propria persona, had alleged in his pretrial motion that Deputies McMaster and
Lehrman did not have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to detain him, that
Deputy Izzo never called McMaster and Lehrman to tell them defendant had tried
to sell drugs, that defendant never placed drugs in or removed them from his
mouth, and that all three deputies wrote arrest reports that contained false and
misleading information. The Court of Appeal reasoned that any evidence that the
deputies had previously falsified police reports or planted evidence would be
relevant to support defendant’s assertion that they had done so in this case. In the
view of the Court of Appeal, the trial court erred in failing to conduct an in-
6
chambers review of the deputies’ personnel records to ascertain whether they
contained discoverable information relevant to these potential defenses.
The People did not dispute the Court of Appeal’s conclusion that the trial
court had erred in failing to review the deputies’ personnel records in camera, nor
did they challenge the Court of Appeal’s disposition conditionally reversing the
judgment and remanding the matter to permit the trial court to review these
records. Under the remand order, the trial court was to reinstate the judgment if it
determined that the records contained no relevant information; if the records
contained relevant information, the trial court was to disclose the information,
allow defendant an opportunity to demonstrate prejudice from the trial court’s
earlier failure to make this disclosure, and order a new trial if defendant
demonstrated a reasonable probability the outcome would have been different had
the relevant information been disclosed.
Instead, it was defendant who objected. In defendant’s view, he was
entitled to a new trial merely upon a showing that relevant information had been
erroneously withheld, without any need to demonstrate prejudice from the
nondisclosure. Defendant argued, alternatively, that if prejudice was a
prerequisite to relief, the burden should be on the People to demonstrate that the
erroneous failure to disclose the information was harmless beyond a reasonable
doubt. We disagree with both of defendant’s contentions.
As the parties concede, the proper remedy when a trial court has
erroneously rejected a showing of good cause for Pitchess discovery and has not
reviewed the requested records in camera is not outright reversal, but a conditional
reversal with directions to review the requested documents in chambers on
remand. (See Pen. Code, § 1260 [reviewing court “may, if proper, remand the
cause to the trial court for such further proceedings as may be just under the
circumstances”].) “Section 1260 evinces a ‘legislative concern with unnecessary
7
retrials where something less drastic will do.’ (People v. Vanbuskirk (1976) 61
Cal.App.3d 395, 405 (Vanbuskirk) [remand to take evidence of fairness in pretrial
identification procedures ‘may avert the need for a retrial’].) ‘[W]hen the validity
of a conviction depends solely on an unresolved or improperly resolved factual
issue which is distinct from issues submitted to the jury, such an issue can
be determined at a separate post-judgment hearing and if at such hearing the issue
is resolved in favor of the People, the conviction may stand.’ (Ibid.) In other
words, ‘when the trial is free of prejudicial error and the appeal prevails on a
challenge which establishes only the existence of an unresolved question which
may or may not vitiate the judgment, appellate courts have, in several instances,
directed the trial court to take evidence, resolve the pending question, and take
further proceedings giving effect to the determination thus made.’ ([People v.
Minor (1980) 104 Cal.App.3d 194,] 199.)” (People v. Moore (2006) 39 Cal.4th
168, 176-177.) Thus, as we have previously held, when a trial court has failed to
make a record of the Pitchess documents it reviewed in camera, it is appropriate to
remand the case “with directions to hold a hearing to augment the record with the
evidence the trial court had considered in chambers when it ruled on the Pitchess
motion.” (People v. Mooc, supra, 26 Cal.4th at p. 1231.) Similarly, when a trial
court has failed to review the Pitchess documents at all, it is appropriate to remand
the case to permit the trial court to review the requested documents in chambers
and to issue a discovery order, if warranted.2

2
There is language in People v. Memro (1985) 38 Cal.3d 658 to suggest that
an outright reversal, not a remand, is the appropriate remedy when the trial court
erroneously denies a Pitchess motion without conducting an in camera review of
the requested documents. (Memro, supra, 38 Cal.3d at p. 685.) However, no
published decision has ever cited Memro as authority for an outright reversal in
such circumstances, defendant does not contend here that Memro announced a rule
requiring an outright reversal, and it would make no sense to reverse a judgment

(footnote continued on next page)
8


After reviewing the confidential materials in chambers, the trial court may
determine that the requested personnel records contain no relevant information.
The Court of Appeal directed the trial court, in that circumstance, to reinstate the
judgment, and no party objects to that portion of the disposition.3 It is also
possible for the trial court to determine on remand that relevant information exists
and should be disclosed. The Court of Appeal provided, in that event, that the trial
court “must order disclosure, allow [defendant] an opportunity to demonstrate
prejudice, and order a new trial if there is a reasonable probability the outcome
would have been different had the information been disclosed.” This was not
error.
“It is settled that an accused must demonstrate that prejudice resulted from
a trial court’s error in denying discovery.” (People v. Memro, supra, 38 Cal.3d at
p. 684; see also People v. Cruz (2008) 44 Cal.4th 636, 670-671; cf. People v. Snow
(1985) 44 Cal.3d 216, 226 [infringement on right to fair and impartial jury is

(footnote continued from previous page)

for a new trial “if it turns out after discovery is granted [at the retrial] that the
personnel files contain no evidence to support the defendant’s claim.” (Memro,
supra, 38 Cal.3d at p. 708 (conc. & dis. opn. of Grodin, J.).) We therefore
overrule Memro to the extent it is inconsistent with the views expressed here.
3
The Court of Appeal’s disposition on this point provided that “[i]f the trial
court’s inspection on remand reveals no relevant information, the trial court must
reinstate the judgment of conviction and sentence, which shall stand affirmed.”
We are concerned, however, that the italicized language “could be construed to
preclude the defendant from seeking appellate review of the trial court’s rulings on
the Pitchess motion following remand,” even though “the defendant retains the
right to appeal from the judgment for the limited purpose of challenging the
Pitchess findings.” (People v. Wycoff (2008) 164 Cal.App.4th 410, 415.)
Accordingly, we will modify the Court of Appeal’s disposition to delete the
italicized language.
9


reversible per se].) Defendant contends nonetheless that no separate prejudice
analysis should be required here, in that a trial court’s determination that relevant
information exists and should be disclosed is the result of “a process, akin to
weighing prejudice, in which it has deemed the records integral to the defendant’s
case.” Defendant misapprehends the Pitchess procedure.
“This court has held that the good cause requirement embodies a ‘relatively
low threshold’ for discovery” (People v. Samuels (2005) 36 Cal.4th 96, 109),
under which a defendant need demonstrate only “a logical link between the
defense proposed and the pending charge” and describe with some specificity
“how the discovery being sought would support such a defense or how it would
impeach the officer’s version of events.” (Warrick v. Superior Court, supra, 35
Cal.4th at p. 1021.) The trial court may then disclose information from the
confidential records that “is relevant to the subject matter involved in the pending
litigation” (Evid. Code, § 1045, subd. (a)), provided that the information does not
concern peace officer conduct occurring more than five years earlier, the
conclusions of an officer investigating a citizen complaint about a peace officer, or
facts that are so remote as to make disclosure of little or no practical benefit (id.,
§ 1045, subd. (b)). Evidence Code section 1045 thus balances the officer’s
privacy interests against the defendant’s need for disclosure. (Alford v. Superior
Court, supra, 29 Cal.4th at p. 1039.) As we have previously explained, however,
this weighing process for screening out unwarranted discovery requests is not akin
to the inquiry into whether a particular error in denying discovery was prejudicial,
an inquiry that involves an assessment or weighing of the persuasive value of the
evidence that was presented and that which should have been presented. (Warrick
v. Superior Court, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1026; cf. People v. Vanbuskirk, supra,
61 Cal.App.3d at p. 407, fn. 10 [once the Court of Appeal determined that
prejudice existed “if either identification was unfair,” the matter was remanded to
10
the trial court to consider defendant’s claim that both eyewitness identifications
were unfairly tainted by an improper photographic identification, and to order a
new trial if it determined that either identification was unfair].) Indeed, a
defendant is entitled to discover relevant information under Pitchess even in the
absence of any judicial determination that the potential defense is credible or
persuasive. (Warrick, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1026.)
Accordingly, a trial court’s determination that information in the requested
records ought to have been disclosed is not equivalent to a finding that such
information would have had any effect on the outcome of the underlying court
proceeding—or, indeed, even a finding that such information would have been
admissible, inasmuch as the trial court’s duty to disclose encompasses information
that is not itself admissible but which “may lead to admissible evidence.”
(Richardson v. Superior Court (2008) 43 Cal.4th 1040, 1048-1049.) To obtain
relief, then, a defendant who has established that the trial court erred in denying
Pitchess discovery must also demonstrate a reasonable probability of a different
outcome had the evidence been disclosed. (People v. Gonzalez (2006) 38 Cal.4th
932, 960; People v. Samuels, supra, 36 Cal.4th at p. 110; People v. Memro, supra,
38 Cal.3d at p. 685; People v. Johnson (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 292, 305; People
v. Hustead (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 410, 421-422; see also People v. Gill (1997) 60
Cal.App.4th 743, 751 [new trial required if the Pitchess evidence would have been
“helpful” to the defense and of a nature “to affect the outcome of his trial”]; see
generally Cal. Const., art. VI, § 13.)
The reasonable-probability standard of prejudice we have applied in
Pitchess cases is the same standard we have applied generally to claims that the
prosecution improperly withheld exculpatory evidence in violation of a
defendant’s right to due process. Brady v. Maryland (1963) 373 U.S. 83 (Brady)
held “that the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused
11
. . . violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to
punishment.” (Id. at p. 87.) Evidence is material “ ‘if there is a reasonable
probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the
proceeding would have been different.’ ” (Kyles v. Whitley (1995) 514 U.S. 419,
433-434.) It is true, as defendant points out, that a trial court need make a
determination only of “the materiality [of the requested documents] to the subject
matter involved in the pending litigation” before ordering disclosure of the
confidential materials under Pitchess. (Evid. Code, § 1043, subd. (b)(3).) But a
trial court’s finding that information is material within the meaning of the Pitchess
scheme does not mean that it is material within the meaning of Brady, for these
two legal schemes “employ different standards of materiality.” (City of Los
Angeles v. Superior Court, supra, 29 Cal.4th at p. 7.) “Our state statutory scheme
allowing defense discovery of certain officer personnel records creates both a
broader and lower threshold for disclosure than does the high court’s decision in
Brady, supra, 373 U.S. 83. Unlike Brady, California’s Pitchess discovery scheme
entitles a defendant to information that will ‘facilitate the ascertainment of the
facts’ at trial [citation], that is, ‘all information pertinent to the defense.’ ” (City of
Los Angeles v. Superior Court, supra, 29 Cal.4th at p. 14.) Consequently, a
finding that material evidence was wrongfully withheld under Pitchess does not
invariably mean that a defendant’s right to due process was denied, “since ‘the
Constitution is not violated every time the government fails or chooses not to
disclose evidence that might prove helpful to the defense.’ ” (People v. Salazar
(2005) 35 Cal.4th 1031, 1050, quoting Kyles v. Whitley, supra, 514 U.S. at pp.
436-437.) To establish a due process violation, a defendant must do more than
show that “helpful” evidence was withheld (People v. Gill, supra, 60 Cal.App.4th
at p. 751); a defendant must go on to show that “ ‘there is a reasonable probability
that, had [the evidence] been disclosed to the defense, the result . . . would have
12
been different.’ ” (In re Sassounian (1995) 9 Cal.4th 535, 544; see generally
Weatherford v. Bursey (1977) 429 U.S. 545, 559 [“There is no general
constitutional right to discovery in a criminal case”]; Wardius v. Oregon (1973)
412 U.S. 470, 474 [except for Brady, supra, 373 U.S. 83, “the Due Process Clause
has little to say regarding the amount of discovery which the parties must be
afforded”].)
Defendant contends also that the withholding of discoverable materials
should result in a reversal without any further showing of prejudice because the
nature of a Pitchess violation precludes a court from undertaking a meaningful
inquiry into whether prejudice occurred. In defendant’s view, courts are “poorly
equipped to appraise the ways in which the failure to turn over critical police
personnel records prejudiced the defendant,” including “how their deprivation
adversely affected the defendant’s overall strategy.” We disagree. The
determination of materiality for Brady claims “ ‘is necessarily fact specific’ ”
(People v. Salazar, supra, 35 Cal.4th at p. 1052, fn. 8), yet courts are called upon
in each case to assess the probable effect of withholding such evidence on the
outcome. Moreover, the Brady duty of disclosure, like the duty announced in
Pitchess, extends to impeachment evidence (People v. Salazar, supra, 35 Cal.4th
at p. 1050), including impeachment of peace officers. (People v. Gutierrez (2003)
112 Cal.App.4th 1463, 1474, fn. 6; accord, U.S. v. Alvarez (9th Cir. 1996) 86 F.3d
901, 903-905.) In determining whether there is a reasonable probability that
disclosure of such evidence would have yielded a different outcome under Brady,
“ ‘the court must consider the nondisclosure dynamically, taking into account the
range of predictable impacts on trial strategy.’ ” (U.S. v. Johnson (D.C. Cir. 2008)
519 F.3d 478, 489.) Defendant does not explain how it can be that courts are
deemed well equipped to ascertain the prejudicial effect of failing to disclose
evidence tending to impeach an officer but must be deemed poorly equipped to
13
ascertain the effect of failing to disclose the same information when it derives
from confidential personnel files.
Finally, defendant contends that a heightened standard of prejudice—i.e.,
the harmless-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard set forth in Chapman v.
California (1967) 386 U.S. 18—must be applied because a failure to disclose
evidence helpful to the defense would impinge on his federal constitutional right
to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment. He is mistaken. Even if relevant
evidence that could have been used to impeach the deputies was wrongfully
withheld, defendant suffered no restriction on the scope of their cross-examination
and was free to cross-examine these witnesses on any relevant subject. “The
constitutional error, if any, in this case was the Government’s failure to assist the
defense by disclosing information that might have been helpful in conducting the
cross-examination. As discussed above, such suppression of evidence amounts to
a constitutional violation only if it deprives the defendant of a fair trial. Consistent
with ‘our overriding concern with the justice of the finding of guilt,’ [citation], a
constitutional error occurs, and the conviction must be reversed, only if the
evidence is material in the sense that its suppression undermines confidence in the
outcome of the trial.” (United States v. Bagley (1985) 473 U.S. 667, 678, italics
added; see Pennsylvania v. Ritchie (1987) 480 U.S. 39, 53 (plur. opn. of Powell,
J.) [“The ability to question adverse witnesses . . . does not include the power to
require pretrial disclosure of any and all information that might be useful in
contradicting unfavorable testimony”]; accord, In re Brown (1998) 17 Cal.4th 873,
884.) Because that is precisely the standard employed by the Court of Appeal
(Strickland v. Washington (1984) 466 U.S. 668, 694 [“A reasonable probability is
a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome”]), no error
appears.
14
DISPOSITION
We modify the judgment of the Court of Appeal to delete the direction that
the judgment “shall stand affirmed” if the trial court’s inspection of the requested
personnel records on remand reveals no relevant information. As so modified, the
judgment of the Court of Appeal is affirmed.
BAXTER, J.
WE CONCUR:

GEORGE, C.J.
KENNARD, J.
WERDEGAR, J.
CHIN, J.
MORENO, J.
CORRIGAN, J.
15


See next page for addresses and telephone numbers for counsel who argued in Supreme Court.

Name of Opinion People v. Gaines
__________________________________________________________________________________

Unpublished Opinion

XXX NP opn. filed 8/29/07 – 2d Dist., Div. 4
Original Appeal
Original Proceeding
Review Granted

Rehearing Granted

__________________________________________________________________________________

Opinion No.

S157008
Date Filed: April 30, 2009
__________________________________________________________________________________

Court:

Superior
County: Los Angeles
Judge: Lisa Mangay Chung

__________________________________________________________________________________

Attorneys for Appellant:

Peter Gold, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and Heather J. Manolakas, under appointment by the
Court of Appeal, for Defendant and Appellant.

__________________________________________________________________________________

Attorneys for Respondent:

Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorney General, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Pamela C.
Hamanaka, Assistant Attorney General, Keith Borjon, Kathy S. Pomerantz, Scott A. Taryle, Kristofer
Jorstad and Stacy S. Schwartz, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


Counsel who argued in Supreme Court (not intended for publication with opinion):

Peter Gold
2269 Chestnut Street, #124
San Francisco, CA 94123
(510) 872-6305

Stacy S. Schwartz
Deputy Attorney General
300 South Spring Street, Suite 1702
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 897-2252


Petition for review after the Court of Appeal reversed a judgment of conviction of criminal offenses and remanded with directions. The court limited review to the following issue: Is outright reversal or a remand for a showing of prejudice the appropriate remedy for a trial court's erroneous denial of a Pitchess motion (Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531)?

Opinion Information
Date:Citation:Docket Number:Category:Status:Cross Referenced Cases:
Thu, 04/30/200946 Cal. 4th 172, 205 P.3d 1074, 92 Cal. Rptr. 3d 627S157008Review - Criminal Appealclosed; remittitur issued

GAINES (RODNEY) ON H.C. (S157234)


Parties
1Gaines, Rodney Louis (Defendant and Appellant)
Correctional Training Facility
Box 689
Soledad, CA 93960

Represented by Peter Gold
Attorney at Law
2269 Chestnut Street, Suite 124
San Francisco, CA

2Gaines, Rodney Louis (Defendant and Appellant)
Correctional Training Facility
Box 689
Soledad, CA 93960

Represented by Heather Jane Manolakas
Attorney at Law
P. O. Box 2615
Basalt, CO

3The People (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by Stacy Sterling Schwartz
DOJ/Crim - Appeals, Writs and Trials
300 South Spring Street Suite 1702
Los Angeles, CA

4The People (Plaintiff and Respondent)
Represented by Kathy Susan Pomerantz
Office of the Attorney General
300 South Spring Street, 5th Floor
Los Angeles, CA


Opinion Authors
OpinionJustice Marvin R. Baxter

Disposition
Apr 30 2009Opinion: Affirmed

Dockets
Oct 2 2007Petition for review filed
  Appellant Rodney Louis Gaines Attorney Heather J. Manolakas, Court of Appeal appt.
Oct 18 2007Received Court of Appeal record
 
Oct 18 2007Record requested
 
Nov 28 2007Petition for review granted; issues limited (criminal case)
  The petition for review is granted. The issue to be briefed and argued is limited to the following: Is outright reversal or a remand for a showing of prejudice the appropriate remedy for a trial court's erroneous denial of a Pitchess motion (Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531)? Votes: George, C.J., Kennard, Baxter, Werdegar, Chin, Moreno, and Corrigan, JJ.
Dec 26 2007Change of contact information filed for:
 
Jan 16 2008Counsel appointment order filed
  Upon request of appellant for apointment of counsel, Peter Gold is hereby appointed to represent appellant on the appeal now pending in this court. Appellant's brief on the merits must be served and filed on or before thirty (30) days from the date of this order.
Feb 11 2008Request for extension of time filed
  Appellant - Rodney Louis Gaines requesting extension till April 15, 2007 to file opening brief on the merits. by Peter Gold, counsel
Feb 14 2008Extension of time granted
  On application of appellant and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the opening brief on the merits is extended to and including April 15, 2008.
Apr 14 2008Opening brief on the merits filed
  Rodney Louis Gaines, appellant by Peter Gold, counsel
May 7 2008Request for extension of time filed
  answer brief/merits to 7-14-08 Respondent People ~Deputy Attorney General Stacy S. Schwartz
May 14 2008Compensation awarded counsel
  Atty Gold
May 19 2008Extension of time granted
  On application of respondent and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the answer brief on the merits is extended to and including July 14, 2008.
Jul 7 2008Request for extension of time filed
  answer brief/merits to August 13, 2008 Respondent People ~Deputy Attorney General Stacy S. Schwartz
Jul 14 2008Extension of time granted
  On application of respondent and good cause appearing, it is ordered that the time to serve and file the answer brief on the merits is extended to and including August 13, 2008. No further extensions of time will be contemplated.
Aug 13 2008Answer brief on the merits filed
  Respondent People ~Deputy Attorney General Stacy S. Schwartz
Sep 2 2008Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
  Louis Gaines, appellant Peter Gold, counsel
Feb 3 2009Case ordered on calendar
  to be argued on Wednesday, March 4, 2009, at 1:30 p.m., in San Francisco
Mar 4 2009Cause argued and submitted
 
Apr 29 2009Notice of forthcoming opinion posted
 
Apr 30 2009Opinion filed: Judgment affirmed in full
  We modify the judgment of the Court of Appeal to delete the direction that the judgment " shall stand affirmed" if the trial court's inspection of the requested personnel records on remand reveals no relevant information. As so modified, the judgment of the Court of Appeal is affirmed. Opinion by Baxter, J. ---joined by George, C.J., Kennard, Werdegar, Chin, Moreno & Corrigan, JJ.
May 7 2009Counsel fee request received
  Atty Gold
May 21 2009Compensation awarded counsel
  George, C.J., was absent and did not participate. Atty Gold
Jun 3 2009Remittitur issued
 
Jun 12 2009Received:
  Receipt for Remittitur from Second Appellate District, Division four.

Briefs
Apr 14 2008Opening brief on the merits filed
 
Aug 13 2008Answer brief on the merits filed
 
Sep 2 2008Reply brief filed (case fully briefed)
 
Brief Downloads
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Amicus Curiae Brief - CA-S182407-AC.pdf (1076219 bytes) - Amicus Curiae Brief
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Amicus Curiae Brief - CA-S182407-AC02.pdf (668375 bytes) - Amicus Curiae Brief
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Answer Brief on the Merits - CA-S182407-SA.pdf (2091368 bytes) - Answer Brief on the Merits
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Answer to Petition for Review - CA-S182407-SP.pdf (999586 bytes) - Answer to Petition for Review
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Opening Brief on the Merits - CA-S182407-SO.pdf (2572227 bytes) - Opening Brief on the Merits
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Reply Brief - CA-S182407-OT.pdf (1775661 bytes) - (Other) Reply Brief
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Petiton for Review - CA-S182407-RV.pdf (3535269 bytes) - Petition for Review
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Reply to Answer to Petition for Review - CA-S182407-ST.pdf (1024277 bytes) - Reply to Answer to Petition for Review
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Answer to Amicus Curiae - CA-S182407-AA.pdf (761877 bytes) - Answer to Amicus Curiae
If you'd like to submit a brief document to be included for this opinion, please submit an e-mail to the SCOCAL website
May 25, 2011
Annotated by matthew prosen

-FACTS-

Upon showing good cause, and if relevant to defend against a criminal charge, a criminal defendant is entitled to discovery of information in the confidential personnel records of a peace officer. (Pen. Code, § 832.7; Evid. Code, § 1043 et seq.; see Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531 ("Pitchess")). A defendant’s motion to uncover the personnel records is known as a “Pitchess motion.”

According to police, Defendant Gaines approached an officer on an undercover operation and attempted multiple times to sell him drugs. At one point, defendant handed the officer a small amount of cocaine and a glass pipe, urging the officer to try the drug. The officer called in backup to arrest Gaines, who was found carrying cocaine and a pipe. Gaines contested this story in court.

During the trial, Gaines filed a Pitchess motion, seeking records relating to whether the arresting officers had previously falsified police records, planted evidence, etc. The trial court summarily denied Gaines’ Pitchess motion without an in camera review of the requested personnel records. Gaines was subsequently convicted for possessing cocaine and a pipe and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Defendant appealed the judgment.

-PROCEDURAL HISTORY-

Defendant was convicted of possessing cocaine and a pipe and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Defendant appealed his conviction, claiming the trial court erroneously denied his Pitchess motion.

On appeal, the Court of Appeal found that the trial court erred in summarily denying defendant’s Pitchess motion without review of the records. “The Court of Appeal conditionally reversed the judgment of conviction and remanded the matter to permit the trial court to conduct an in camera review of the requested personnel records. If the trial court's inspection uncovered no relevant information, the trial court was to reinstate the judgment. If, on the other hand, relevant information was discovered during the in camera review, the trial court was to order disclosure, allow defendant an opportunity to demonstrate prejudice from the failure to disclose the relevant information, and order a new trial if there was a reasonable probability the outcome would have been different had the information been disclosed.”

Defendant appealed the Court of Appeal’s decision to the California Supreme Court, agreeing that an in camera review should occur but disagreeing about the effect of the review and the placement of the burden of proof. Defendant argued 1) that if the in camera review reveals any relevant evidence, the trial court’s error should be deemed reversible per se or, alternatively, 2) that the conviction should be reversed unless the prosecution shows that the failure to disclose the evidence was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

The California Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the Court of Appeal (with a minor technical modification unrelated to the issues of the case).

-ISSUES-

(1) Is outright reversal or a remand for a showing of prejudice the appropriate remedy for a trial court's erroneous denial of a Pitchess motion?

(2) Is the burden on the defendant to show prejudice from an erroneous denial of a Pitchess motion?

-HOLDING-

(1) “The trial court's erroneous denial of a Pitchess motion is not reversible per se. Rather, the failure to disclose relevant information in confidential personnel files, like other discovery errors, is reversible only if there is a reasonable probability of a different result had the information been disclosed.”

(2) “A defendant who has established that the trial court erred in denying Pitchess discovery must also demonstrate a reasonable probability of a different outcome had the evidence been disclosed.”

-ANALYSIS-

(1) Pen. Code, § 1260 indicates legislative concern with unnecessary retrials when less drastic remedies will suffice. Thus, “when a trial court has failed to make a record of the Pitchess documents it reviewed in camera, it is appropriate to remand the case with directions to hold a hearing to augment the record with the evidence the trial court had considered in chambers when it ruled on the Pitchess motion.” By analogy, when a trial court fails to review the Pitchess documents at all, the appeals court should remand the case to allow the trial court to review the documents and issue a discovery order if such an order is warranted.

(2) If on remand the court finds relevant information in the records, the issue arises as to whether the defendant must carry the burden in proving that the lack of information was prejudicial. It is settled law that the defendant must demonstrate prejudice resulting from a trial court’s erroneous denial of discovery. The decision to admit evidence in a Pitchess motion is akin to the decision to admit evidence in normal discovery, and thus the defendant must carry the same burden in both situations.

Defendant argues that the Pitchess motion is different from normal discovery because it requires a “good cause” test that is akin to determining whether denying the information is prejudicial. Defendant’s theory fails because the “good cause” requirement for Pitchess motions is a “relatively low threshold” for discovery, and because it requires the weighing of the officer’s privacy against the defendant’s need for disclosure, which does not entail determining whether information would have been persuasive to the jury. Because determination of the persuasiveness is required for the determination of prejudice, and because the “good cause” test lacks a determination of persuasiveness, Pitchess motions are substantially similar to normal discovery. Thus, the defendant carries the burden in proving prejudice.

(3) Additionally, there is no constitutional due process issue. Under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the suppression of “material” evidence is a due process violation. Brady defines evidence material "if there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different." The materiality standard for a Pitchess motion, however, is much broader and entitles a defendant to “all information pertinent to the defense,” with no determination of persuasive effect. Thus, the denial of material Pitchess evidence does not necessarily implicate due process concerns.

(4) Trial judges are perfectly capable of ascertaining the prejudicial nature of Pitchess evidence in hearings on remand. Judges make determinations on the prejudicial nature of evidence during all trial stages, and defendant does not explain why they are distinctly inept to do so in hearings on remand.

(5) The defendant’s suggested heightened standard of prejudice – the harmless-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard – is inappropriate. There was no constitutional failure to disclose evidence to the defense, because the defense was able to cross-examine the officers. "The ability to question adverse witnesses ... does not include the power to require the pretrial disclosure of any and all information that might be useful in contradicting unfavorable testimony." Hence, the Pitchess evidence was not constitutionally required and there is no need for a heightened standard.

-TAGS-

Pitchess; Pitchess motion; discovery; burden of proof; prejudice; relevant evidence; materiality; criminal; due process; police officer records; personnel files