San Diego DA Must Turn Over 16 Years of Homicide Records

The San Diego District Attorney must supply 16 years of homicide records to lawyers for a California death row inmate who seeks to investigate whether the prosecutors selectively pushed capital cases based on the race of the inmate and the victim.

La Twon Weaver, sentenced to die for the 1993 slaying of a jeweler during a robbery in a Vista shopping mall, is entitled to murder charging documents from 1977 to 1993, according to the Fourth District Court of Appeal Wednesday.

The San Diego District Attorneys office had argued the material was exempt from the California Public Records Act, would implicate privacy rights of hundreds of defendants and victims, and was overly burdensome, requiring 35-40 hours of time to gather, at a cost of $3,400.

The question is whether court documents, that are normally open to the public, would be entitled to exemption from disclosure under the Public Records Act because they are in the district attorney’s file or because they implicate privacy rights.

“We conclude the documents sought are not exempt from disclosure,” the panel wrote.

The otherwise public documents cannot be shielded from public disclosure because of the location in which they are stored – in this case the DA’s office, the court held.

Disclosure of the documents Weaver seeks would not violate the privacy rights of either the defendants or victims in homicide cases.  There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in documents required to be filed in court when those documents are not filed under seal,” wrote Justice Terry O’Rourke.

As for the expense, the public’s interest in fair administration of the death penalty “is a longstanding concern in California, and it is inconceivable to us that any countervailing interest that the District Attorney could assert outweighs the magnitude of the public’s interest,” he said.

Weaver was identified by two employees and a customer as the sole shooter of 35-year-old Michael Broome.  The defense sought to put the blame on Weaver’s friend Byron Summersville, who had a violent criminal history and was allegedly his car was seen leaving the scene.  Weaver allegedly said that Summersville largely planned the robbery and that Weaver, the son of a Baptist minister, thought Summersville was with him when he walked into the store.  When he turned and realized his friend wasn’t there, the gun went off accidentially, killing Broome, according to Weaver’s defense.

Justices James McIntyre and Joan Irion joined in the opinion.

Case:Weaver v. Sup. Ct of San Diego, No. D063768

 

 

 

 

 

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