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The California Supreme Court, in resolving who has access to information gathered during Pitchess discoveries and when that information can be used, came up with a muddle Thursday that has left all interested parties wanting more. To defense lawyers’ dismay, the splintered court held that evidence gathered through Pitchess motions — which let criminal defendants seek information about an arresting officer’s past record — can only be used during the court proceeding in question. But to prosecutors’ consternation, the court also ruled that defense lawyers do not have to share what they uncover. “We’re disappointed,” San Diego County Deputy Public Defender Matthew Braner said. “It complicates things a little, makes a little more work,” said San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Anthony Lovett. In the case, drug offenders Maurice Alford and Donny Love had sought Pitchess discovery of their arresting officers, hoping they would find some evidence of past dishonesty that could help their case. They had argued that the information they gathered could be used at any court proceeding. But the Supreme Court, in the ruling authored by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, rejected that argument, saying the evidence was available only for the case for which it was sought. Prosecutors, meanwhile, had argued that they were entitled to share in the information gathered during a Pitchess discovery. But the court again disagreed. “In a Pitchess hearing,” Werdegar wrote, “the district attorney prosecuting the underlying criminal case represents neither the custodian of records nor their subject, and thus has no stake in the outcome.” Chief Justice Ronald George and Justice Joyce Kennard concurred. Justice Marvin Baxter, in a concurring and dissenting opinion joined by Justices Ming Chin and Janice Rogers Brown, agreed with the majority in limiting the use of Pitchess information to one proceeding. But he took exception with excluding prosecutors from the Pitchess riches. “The majority overturns 30 years of law and practice under the Pitchess scheme,” Baxter wrote. “This is the first and only decision depriving the people of full notice and adversarial participation in defense Pitchess motions, and denying access to Pitchess materials disclosed to the defendant.” Justice Carlos Moreno, meanwhile, staked out his own territory in a separate concurring and dissenting opinion. While agreeing with the majority on denying prosecutors access to Pitchess information gathered by defense lawyers, he disagreed on limiting the use of the information to one court proceeding. “Any information received by a defense attorney (typically an incident of police misconduct) has been ‘distilled’ through Pitchess,” he wrote. “There is no need to repeat that process, with different judges, again and again.” Moreno also repeated a warning from a ruling last year in which he said the Pitchess pendulum had swung too far in favor of police privacy rights and against the disclosure of relevant evidence. “In the present case,” he wrote, “the pendulum continues to swing in the wrong direction.” The case is Alford v. Superior Court, 03 C.D.O.S. 1675.

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