Cal.1: Superior Court improperly dismissed pretextual stop claim under California Racial Justice Act of 2020

Defendant here gets reconsideration of his discovery request over an alleged pretextual stop under the California Racial Justice Act of 2020 (Stats. 2020, ch. 317, § 1). He gets over the threshold for a preliminary showing. The trial court impermissibly rejected the claim. Young v. Superior Court, 2022 Cal. App. LEXIS 459 (1st Dist. May 26, 2022):

Based on evidence presented at his preliminary hearing, Young argued below that racial profiling in a traffic stop led to his arrest for the offense of possession of Ecstasy for sale. He also pointed to publicly available statistics showing that, statewide, blacks are more likely to be searched during the course of traffic stops than other citizens. On this showing, he brought a motion under the Racial Justice Act seeking discovery relating to charging decisions in cases he claims are comparable to his. For the past five years, he sought the names and case numbers of others who were charged with or could have been charged with possession of Ecstasy for sale; the same information for a broad range of related drug offenses; the police reports relating to the suspects involved and their criminal histories; and the dispositions in all of these cases. Upon compelled disclosure of this information, Young wishes to show that the District Attorney “has more frequently charged Black defendants like Mr. Young, Jr. with possession for sale” than defendants of other races. (See § 745, subd. (a)(3).)

Proceeding cautiously and noting the lack of available appellate precedent to guide its application of section 745, subdivision (d), the trial court denied the motion. The court’s only articulated reason for the denial was that Young’s good cause showing appeared to rest on nothing more than his race. Before us, on writ review, the Attorney General reiterates this rationale, though in slightly different form. He argues that, as a matter of statutory interpretation, since Young’s race is the only “logical link” between, on the one hand, the allegation of racial profiling (a charge he claims is pertinent to whether there was a violation of section 745, subdivision (a)(1)), and on the other hand, the allegation of racially biased prosecution (a charge he claims is pertinent to whether there was a violation of section 745, subdivision (a)(3)), good cause for discovery relating to prosecutorial bias is lacking.

We will disagree, vacate the denial order, and remand with directions. The trial court’s reason for denying Young’s motion was incorrect as a factual matter. The grounds for the motion went beyond “simply” Young’s race, and the Attorney General’s reformulation of that mistaken premise, to the extent his “logical link” argument has any bearing on good cause, goes to the breadth and scope of allowable discovery, not to whether discovery should be allowed at all. Borrowing from the minimal threshold showing that is required to trigger an obligation to provide so-called Pitchess discovery (Evid. Code, § 1043, subd. (b); see Pitchess v. Superior Court (1974) 11 Cal.3d 531), we hold that Young may claim entitlement to discovery under section 745, subdivision (d) if he makes a plausible case, based on specific facts, that any of the four enumerated violations of section 745, subdivision (a) could or might have occurred. (§ 745, subd. (a)(1)—(4).)

But a showing of plausible justification is merely a threshold consideration. “The trial court, in deciding whether the defendant shall be permitted to obtain discovery of the requested material, must consider and balance a number of [other] factors” (City of Alhambra v. Superior Court (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 1118, 1134 (Alhambra)), “[s]pecifically … (1) whether the material requested is adequately described, (2) whether the requested material is reasonably available to the governmental entity from which it is sought (and not readily available to the defendant from other sources), (3) whether production of the records containing the requested information would violate (i) third party confidentiality or privacy rights or (ii) any protected governmental interest, (4) whether the defendant has acted in a timely manner, (5) whether the time required to produce the requested information will necessitate an unreasonable delay of defendant’s trial, and whether the production of the records containing the requested information would place an unreasonable burden on the governmental entity involved” (ibid., fn. omitted).

Whether Young can satisfy this multifactor test of good cause remains to be seen. We decline his invitation to reverse outright and issue a writ directing the entry of an order granting his discovery requests as framed. Instead, we vacate the order denying discovery and direct the trial court to give Young’s motion further consideration. While we provide some general guidance, we leave to the trial court the specific application of the plausible justification standard we adopt here, taking other pertinent factors into account. Described broadly, the court’s task will be to engage in a discretionary weighing of the strength of Young’s factual showing, the potential probative value of the information he seeks, and the burdens of gathering the requested “records or information” for disclosure. (§ 745, subd. (d).) Should the court conclude that discovery is warranted, we can say no more at this point than that the scope of compelled discovery must be tailored to demonstrated need.

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