PA Pretrial Motions: Motion to Review Police Personnel FileApr 11 2020, by Criminal Defense, Legal Blog in
During a criminal case, you have the right to information that might help your defense. Figuring out whether an officer behaved unprofessionally in the past might help you prove you were racially profiled, discriminated against, or in some other way wrongfully arrested.
Getting access to an officer’s employment history can be challenging without help. Police personnel files in Pennsylvania aren’t public record. In fact, they are confidential. You must file a pretrial Motion to Review Police Personnel Files and convince a judge to approve it.
A Motion to Review Police Personnel File
Through a Motion to Review Police Personnel Files, you ask a judge to compel the police department or other agency to hand over a specific officer’s personnel file. You might request records for the arresting officer or another officer who investigated your case.
The motion can cover various types of records, including internal affairs reports, citizen complaints, and medical and mental health records. But you’re limited by what’s relevant. You only have a right to see documents that could pertain to your case.
You Can’t Rely on Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law
The PA Right-to-Know Law allows anyone to request access to public records. But police disciplinary records are usually exempt.
If an officer is demoted or fired, that’s public record, but the reason behind the change isn’t. You can ask for all of the public records related to an incident, but don’t expect to receive an officer’s personnel file based on this request.
When Is This Motion Appropriate?
An experienced lawyer will carefully review the facts of your case. They’ll evaluate what happened leading up to, during, and right after your arrest. If there are any signs the police acted improperly or unlawfully, your lawyer will want to know more about the officers and whether they have a history of this conduct.
The Purpose of Looking into an Officer’s Employment History
The goal of reviewing an officer’s background is to find prior investigations, complaints, or sanctions involving:
- Racial profiling
- Excessive force
- Domestic abuse
- Improper searches and seizures
- Illegally obtained evidence
- False arrests
- Instances of professional dishonesty
- Criminal conduct
- Other forms of misconduct
The information you’re looking for depends on your circumstances. One kind of misconduct isn’t necessarily relevant to another. If you’re arguing you were the victim of excessive force, then your lawyer will review the officer’s files for unnecessary violence and coercion.
If you believe you were the victim of racial profiling, your lawyer will look into the demographics of the officer’s arrests. It might be clear that the officer, or possibly the entire police department, targets people of color.
You Need an Attorney to Support This Motion
Judges don’t automatically approve Motions to Review Police Personnel Files. It’s up to the judge to determine if a review of the officer’s file is applicable. They’ll try to balance the officer and department’s right to privacy versus your right to information relevant to your defense.
You need a lawyer who can offer a convincing argument in writing and before the judge that will tip the scales in your favor. Your criminal defense attorney will provide specific facts that show police misconduct could have or might have happened, and that recent records might support that assertion in their written motion.
You’re required to provide the prosecution and police department notice of this motion, and they have the right to fight back. The judge will listen to both sides during a hearing. This is where your lawyer must stand before the judge and provide a clear, concise, and passionate argument regarding why viewing an officer’s personnel file is not only appropriate, it’s necessary.
Attorney Michael Fienman has years of experience as a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney. He believes in using an aggressive pretrial motion practice because a lot can happen before trial that helps your case. Through pretrial motions like a Motion to Review Police Personnel File, he can strengthen your defense and weaken the prosecution.