Pitchess Motions (Identifying Patterns of Police Misconduct)


A California “Pitchess motion”—described in Evidence Code 1043 and 1045 EC— is a request for information contained in a law enforcement officer's personnel file.1

California criminal defense lawyers typically file a Pitchess motion as part of the pretrial process when they believe that their client has been the victim of some form of police misconduct.

Types of law enforcement officer misconduct that could support a Pitchess motion include:
  • Use of excessive force,2
  • Racial profiling ,
  • Coercing confessions,3 and/or
  • Dishonesty in police reports.4
If you believe that the officers involved in your arrest engaged in misconduct—and that this misconduct had a material impact on the charges against you5—then a Pitchess motion can help turn up proof that have a history of that sort of behavior.

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Pitchess motion procedures and standards

The first step in the Pitchess motion process is for your attorney to file a written motion with the court handling your case. S/he must also provide written notice of the motion to the governmental agency that maintains the personnel records you are seeking.6
Among other things, the Pitchess motion must include
  1. A description of the type of records or information you are seeking, and
  2. Documents showing “good cause” for the records to be released to you.7
Then, if the judge determines that your Pitchess motion shows “good cause” for disclosing the officer personnel records, s/he will hold a private—“in camera”—hearing in which s/he decides which records are relevant to your case.8

How a Pitchess motion can help your criminal case

Depending on what the officer personnel records reveal, a successful Pitchess motion could persuade the prosecution to reduce—or even dismiss—one or more of your charges.

And even when the prosecutor doesn't choose to do so, the information could help you pursue
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