Leveraging Better Results in Criminal Defense Cases: Pitchess Motions
Almost every time a new client comes in they want to know how their case will end up. Often times, clients want me to “lay odds” about what will happen with their case. I have to tell them the same thing every time: Every case is different. Every result is different. I may have some idea about how a case should work out, but I never know exactly how the case will resolve. What I do know is that I can frequently do things to increase my client’s odds of a better or more successful outcome.
I recently was retained on a criminal case in San Fernando Court. The client was arrested driving Southbound in Interstate 5. He was drove down from his home in Northern California and he was visiting relatives here in Southern California and ultimately dropping his father off at the airport in Los Angeles. As he crossed into Los Angeles County the car he was driving caught the eye of a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff. This deputy, James Peterson, was a member of the Sheriff’s Highway Interdiction Team. This group monitors cars coming into the County and often uncovers people bringing drugs into Los Angeles from Norther Counties. In this case, Deputy Peterson observed the registration of my client’s borrowed vehicle to be expired. Deputy Peterson executed a traffic stop on the vehicle. After speaking to my client for a moment, Deputy Peterson claimed he smelled marijuana from within the vehicle. After that he searched the car he founda loaded firearm and methamphetamine in a hidden compartment in the trunk.
My client and his father who was the passenger in the car were arrested for a violation of Health and Safety Code Section 11370.1. My client’s father was ultimately set free and my client was charged with the felony along with an additional felony for the hidden compartment. He hired another lawyer, got himself remanded to custody at the arraignment and then hired me. I got him bailed out and substituted into the case for the prior lawyer who had done nothing on the case.
I interviewed my client and found out that he was not a fluent English speaker. He was unable to communicate with Deputy Peterson who is not a fluent Spanish speaker. Deputy Peterson authored a police report regarding this incident. In his report, the Deputy stated that my client told Peterson that he owed the vehicle he was driving. Both my client and his father were adamant that they told the deputy the car was borrowed from a friend. Deputy Peterson wrote in his report that there were no personal items in the car that appeared to belong to the vehicle occupants. In fact, there were two suit cases in the back seat of the car which belonged to my client and his father. Deputy Peterson wrote in his report that the items in the suit cases were likely “props” and didn’t appear to belong to the vehicle occupants. This too was made up.
Believing that my client was telling me the truth, I began my investigation. I found a Spanish speaking investigator in Northern California. I had him interview the car owner who confirmed that the car was loaned to my client. The vehicle owner also confirmed that the gun in the trunk was his own. He denied knowledge about the drugs. Next, I drafted a Pitchess Motion. This is a motion seeking prior complaints of false reports or moral turpitude within Deputy Peterson’s personnel file. The threshold for getting a Pitchess Motion is very low. The down side is that there are often no documents to be found if the motion is granted. Not the case here. I got a “hit”. I was given the name, address and phone number of an Assistant United States Attorney in Los Angeles.
No sooner than I left a voicemail message for my witness did I get a call back from a different U.S. Attorney explaining their office policy about releasing information about their files. Knowing I had hit the tip of an iceberg I started doing research on Deputy Peterson. It turned out that I found another case where Deputy Peterson had pulled a different car over coming down I-5. This car seems to have been pulled over for no good reason. The car was then searched by the deputy. He found over $40,000 in the glove compartment and confiscated the money. The driver and passenger were arrested and later set free without being charged with crimes. The money wasn’t returned until a federal lawsuit was filed by the driver’s attorney. Deputy Peterson was named in the lawsuit along with the Sheriff’s Department. That suit was recently settled in a confidential settlement which involved the sheriff giving all the money back.
Not satisfied that I had found everything there was to find on Peterson, I kept looking. Then one day it came to me on the internet. LATimes.com ran an article about this very deputy. The United States Attorney’s Office had come out publicly and said that the credibility of Deputy James Peterson is tainted that they were refusing to prosecute cases which he investigated. This was my smoking gun. My deputy district attorney also saw the article, but not before I sent her my investigators reports on the vehicle and gun ownership. I got a call about two days later asking if my client would be willing to plead guilty to driving on a suspended license.
Good lawyers know the law. Great lawyers work their cases.
If you have questions about Pitchess Motions or about hiring a criminal defense or DUI defense attorney, or if you want a free case evaluation, call me:
Attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or (888) 764-4340 or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I look forward to meeting you and doing my best to get your case dismissed too!
Please visit my sites for more information:
www.4criminaldefense.com or www.westlakecriminaldefense.com
Since I wrote this blog, the Los Angeles Times started a four part series dealing with Pitchess Motions. This article was published today specifically discussing my case and Deputy James Peterson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.