On July 10, 2012, a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles County filed a lawsuit under the U.S. Constitution and state law against the Los Angeles County Police and District Attorney in the Superior Court of California for Los Angeles County. The plaintiff is represented by a consortium of public interest organizations and scholars (including the ACLU of Southern California). The plaintiff requested declaratory and injunctive relief against the District Attorney (DA) and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department (LASD), claiming that the two organizations systematically deny due process under the constitution to criminal defendants. Specifically, the plaintiff claims that a series of formal policies regarding evidence that would otherwise indicate the innocence of a defendant ("exculpatory evidence") is suppressed in violation of state law, the California constitution, and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Between December 2010 and July 2011, three inmates in the Los Angeles Men's Central Jail had been charged with various crimes relating to assaults on corrections officers. In these cases, the defendant's attorney (the plaintiff) requested from the prosecution whether or not the officers involved in the assault had a history of having brutality complaints filed against them. According to state law, the LASD was required to keep a history of complaints as part of the officer's files for five years. In each of these three cases, the prosecution replied that there was no "discoverable information."
According to the plaintiff, several officers involved in these cases had a history of beating inmates, and a history of complaints being filed against them, and the convictions of these three criminal defendants are in doubt. The plaintiffs allege that this information was concealed as a result of a series of policies of both the District Attorney and the Sheriff's Department:
(1) The Sheriff's Department does not mark information for disclosure unless the reviewing deputy believes by 'clear and convincing evidence' that the information is true. The plaintiffs allege that this is a violation of Supreme Court precedent
(2) The Sheriff's Department records incidents of complaints about corrections' officers' violations in the complaining inmate's file, not the correction's officer's file. Plaintiff alleges this is a violation of California Penal Code § 832.5, which requires maintenance of the records in the officer's file for five years.
(3) The DA's office requests a prosecutor to confer with a special unit, and personally convince the compliance attorney that information is exculpatory by 'clear and convincing' evidence. Plaintiff alleges that this is a violation of California Penal Code § 1054.1, and the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution.
(4) The DA's office only discloses exculpatory material to the defense when it is included in the compliance unit's database. Because the compliance attorney must be convinced of the truth of the information, the plaintiff claims that this screening process leads to a systematic violation of the Due Process clause and the California Penal Code § 1054.1(e).
(5) It is the policy of the DA's office to suppress any exculpatory information that is part of another ongoing criminal or administrative investigation. Because the pendency of an investigation can be used as a way to shield exculpatory information from criminal defendants, the plaintiff claims this is a systemic violation of the Due Process Clause.
Following the lawsuit, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department implemented a new system of reporting and tracking complaints against deputies by employee number and name. LASD also manually reviewed inmate complaints from the past five years to ensure that relevant complaints were added to the database. Finally, LASD agreed to notify local defense attorneys about the new policy so attorneys whose clients have pending cases know that they can renew their requests and may receive information that had been withheld under the old policy. As a result, the ACLU dropped the charges against the LASD.
The ACLU then filed an amended complaint, which included claims against the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office for preventing or prohibiting disclosure of favorable evidence to criminal defendants. There is no further information available as of February 15, 2016. Blase Kearney - 07/23/2012
Anna Jones - 02/15/2016