Overturning an earlier state appeals decision, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department can disclose to prosecutors the misconduct history of deputies being called to testify in criminal cases.
The legal dispute stems from a “Brady list” — named after a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case — of names of about 300 Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies with misconduct histories. In criminal cases, prosecutors are required by law to provide defense attorneys with any information that might bring into question the overall credibility of law enforcement officials testifying in a case.
However, citing privacy and confidentiality concerns, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents deputies, sued to prevent the list — compiled during the administration of former Sheriff Jim McDonnell — from being turned over to prosecutors.
In 2017, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant found that providing the complete list would clash with state law, but he authorized the sheriff’s department to turn over names of problem deputies who might be scheduled to testify in an upcoming criminal case to comply with disclosure rules.
ALADS appealed the decision, and in mid-2017, a state appeals court sided with the deputies union, blocking the revelation of any names to prosecutors, even in the case of a deputy set to testify in a criminal case. The state Supreme Court on Monday, however, said state laws “permit such disclosure.”
The court found that the sheriff’s department would not violate state law “by sharing with prosecutors the fact that an officer, who is a potential witness in a pending criminal prosecution, may have relevant exonerating or impeaching material in that officer’s confidential personnel file.”
ALADS issued a statement emphasizing that the ruling, while authorizing the release of information relating to “pending criminal prosecutions,” it “does not allow the department’s wholesale release to the prosecution of its Brady list, as it originally set out to do.”
“In addition, the court did not require Brady alerts, but merely concluded they are permissible in the context of a pending criminal prosecution,” according to the union. “ALADS’ primary interest has always been and will continue to be the protection of privacy for ALADS members and their families and the preservation of due process rights for all involved.
“… As our next step, ALADS representatives have already sent a meet-and-confer request to develop a policy for handling these cases within the perimeters laid out by (Monday’s) decision. ALADS also will sit down with departmental staff and develop an administrative process to enforce the court’s ruling.”
Because “the official Brady list is a product of the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department will not be maintaining `a list’ of potential Brady material, but will provide all information required to the District Attorney’s Office on a case-by-case basis,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.
“Because the Sheriff’s Department understands the needs of the community, we plan on sitting down with the District Attorney to work out an effective, efficient, transparent and open process for turning over the information,” Villanueva said.
“We want to effectively and consistently ensure all defendants’ rights to due process are honored, which includes providing all exculpatory evidence as outlined in Brady v. Maryland.”
Brian K. Williams, executive director of the county Civilian Oversight Commission that monitors management of the sheriff’s department, said he was pleased with the ruling.
“Transparency regarding officer credibility is critical to prosecutors and defense attorneys to ensure a fair process and avoid wrongful convictions,” he said. “This decision supports best practice reforms and will have an impact on law enforcement agencies throughout the state.”
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