Must Officers Reveal Past Misconduct When Testifying?

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Must an officer testifying in a criminal case disclose past accusations about his conduct? The Los Angeles Times says that question is playing out in a case involving an L.A. County sheriff’s sergeant, Justin Walter, who pulled over an SUV for an expired registration tag and found a few grams of meth. More than a year after Walter’s testimony led to the conviction of Emil Alseranai on a drug charge, the case has become focused on what the sergeant did not tell the court or anyone else involved in the case: that Walter had previously been found liable by a federal jury in a civil lawsuit accusing him and other deputies of using false evidence or false testimony in a man’s arrest.

Alseranai is seeking a new trial, arguing the sheriff’s sergeant and the prosecution team violated his right to a fair trial by failing to notify him of the 2010 civil jury verdict. That evidence could call into question Walter’s credibility as a witness, Alseranai said. The case comes amid heightened public scrutiny in Los Angeles County over how much information authorities are required to tell criminal defendants about accusations of misconduct leveled against law enforcement officers who testify in their cases. An appeals court is weighing whether Sheriff Jim McDonnell can provide prosecutors with a list of roughly 300 deputies who have histories of being disciplined for making false statements, stealing, using excessive force and other serious misconduct. A judge is expected to rule Tuesday on whether Alseranai should be granted a new trial.

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