Defense Attorney Michael D. Litman Defends the Right to Access Officer Personnel Records

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In light of an October 15, 2015, article on WNYC.org about New York shielding police misconduct, attorney Michael D. Litman speaks out on how the state makes it difficult for defense attorneys to find out if an arresting officer has a history of misconduct.

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Michael D. Litman

That sort of information can be crucial in cross examining a police officer that is accusing a client of a crime, particularly when the client is maintaining his or her innocence.

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“Section 50-a of New York’s Civil Rights Law makes personnel records for law enforcement confidential,” said Litman. “This encompasses internal affairs files, civilian complaints and disciplinary findings.”

According to the WNYC.org article, New York has one of the most restrictive policies in the country, with implications not just for the general public, but also for criminal defendants who could use such records as evidence. In fact, New York leads the nation in shielding police misconduct.

“New York criminal defense attorneys face an uphill battle in discovering if a police officer has a history of lying, making false arrests or using excessive force,” said Litman. “That sort of information can be crucial in cross examining a police officer that is accusing a client of a crime, particularly when the client is maintaining his or her innocence. This often comes into play when a client is accused of resisting arrest, where it is the police officer’s word against the word of the client.”

Litman further states that in cases where a client disputes a police officer’s version of events and maintains their innocence, having knowledge of prior incidents which demonstrate that the officer has a history of making false accusations or being disciplined, can be instrumental in discrediting the officer, and providing the judge and jury with reasonable doubt.

“Having access to the personnel records of police officers is important to protecting the rights of the accused, as well as the rights of the public at large,” said Litman. “If a police officer is consistently making false arrests or using excessive force, why shouldn’t that information be public? Allowing a corrupt officer to act with impunity, not only encourages them to continue acting that way, but erodes the trust the public has in the criminal justice system.”

About the Law Office of Michael D. Litman
The Law Office of Michael D. Litman is a White Plains-based DWI and criminal defense law firm committed to fighting for clients’ rights across the NYC metro area. The firm’s attorneys have spent thousands of hours in court representing hundreds of clients charged with DWI and criminal offenses, and their knowledge and understanding of DWI and criminal law help them build the best defense possible to get charges reduced or dismissed. For more information, please call (917) 554-8231. The law office is located at 203 E. Post Road, White Plains, NY 10601.

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