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Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead v. Johnson

Supreme Court of South Dakota

July 27, 2016

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Appellant,
v.
JOSEPH PATRICK JOHNSON, Appellee. MINNEHAHA COUNTY SHERIFF MIKE MILSTEAD, and Appellant,

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON OCTOBER 5, 2015

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SECOND JUDICIAL CIRCUIT MINNEHAHA COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE SUSAN M. SABERS Judge

          SARA E. SHOW KERSTEN A. KAPPMEYER Minnehaha County State’s Attorney’s Office Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys for appellant Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milbstead

          AARON MCGOWAN Minnehaha County State’s Attorney MATTHEW J. ABEL Minnehaha County Deputy State’s Attorney Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys for appellant State of South Dakota.

          BEAU J. BLOUIN Minnehaha County Public Defender’s Office Sioux Falls, South Dakota Attorneys for appellee Joseph Patrick Johnson.

          KERN, Justice

         [¶1.] Defendant was arrested and charged with several offenses, including two counts of simple assault against a law enforcement officer. Defendant served a subpoena duces tecum on the county sheriff requesting "[a]ll disciplinary records/reports, disciplinary actions or complaints" contained within the personnel files of three Minnehaha County Sheriff Department detectives. The sheriff filed a motion to quash the subpoena, which the circuit court denied in part. The court ordered the sheriff to produce, for in camera review, complaints against one of the officers "for excessive force or aggression, " "[d]isciplinary records involving the incident for which the Defendant is charged with in this case, " and "[d]isciplinary actions taken against any of the three officers because of this matter." We granted the sheriff's petition for an intermediate appeal from the circuit court's order. We reverse.

         Background

         [¶2.] On April 30, 2014, Minnehaha County Detectives Joe Bosman, Craig Butler, and Ryan Qualseth arrested Joseph Patrick Johnson on a misdemeanor child-support warrant. He was later indicted for several offenses, including two counts of simple assault against a law enforcement officer (Detective Qualseth). Detective Qualseth was the only detective involved in the physical altercation with Johnson. On September 5, 2014, Johnson served a subpoena duces tecum on Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead requesting production of "[a]ll disciplinary records/reports, disciplinary actions or complaints made against the following Minnehaha County Sheriff Department's employees: Detective Joe Bosman, Detective Craig Butler, and Detective Ryan Qualseth."[1]

         [¶3.] On November 19, 2014, Sheriff Milstead filed a motion to quash the subpoena, arguing it was "unreasonable and oppressive." The court held a motions hearing on December 3, 2014. A Minnehaha County deputy state's attorney from the civil division represented Sheriff Milstead and a deputy state's attorney from the criminal division represented the State. Johnson argued that access to the requested records was necessary for effective cross-examination under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution in order to present his theory of the case. Johnson informed the court that he was not claiming that he acted in self-defense. Rather, he contended that Detective Qualseth used excessive force against him during his arrest and that Detective Qualseth was the aggressor. Johnson denied assaulting the officers. In response to the discovery request, Sheriff Milstead argued that the subpoena, in addition to being unreasonable and oppressive was nothing more than a "fishing expedition." He further asserted that the requested documents, even if produced, would be irrelevant and inadmissible under the rules of evidence. In response, Johnson argued that relevancy is a question to be determined at trial.

         [¶4.] The circuit court denied in part Sheriff Milstead's motion to quash the subpoena. The court ordered Sheriff Milstead to produce the following documents for in camera review: 1) "[c]omplaints against Detective Qualseth for excessive force or aggression[, ]" 2) "disciplinary records involving the incident for which the Defendant is charged with in this case[, ]" and 3) "[d]isciplinary actions taken against any of the three officers because of this matter." In addition to its oral findings of fact and conclusions of law, the circuit court entered written findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order on January 20, 2015.

         [¶5.] In February 2015 Sheriff Milstead petitioned this Court for an intermediate appeal from the circuit court's order. We granted the request on April 6, 2015. The State, through the Minnehaha County State's Attorney's Office, filed a brief in support of Sheriff Milstead's position.

         [¶6.] On appeal, Sheriff Milstead raises two issues:

1. Whether the circuit court erred in holding that a law enforcement officer's personnel file is discoverable under SDCL 23A-14-5 (Rule 17(c)).
2. Whether the circuit court erred in ordering an in camera review of portions of the three detectives' personnel files.

         Standard of Review

         [¶7.] Ordinarily, "[w]e review the [circuit] court's rulings on discovery matters under an abuse of discretion standard." Anderson v. Keller, 2007 S.D. 89, ¶ 5, 739 N.W.2d 35, 37. However, the question whether the circuit court erred when it interpreted SDCL 23A-14-5 to permit discovery raises a question of statutory interpretation and application, which we review de novo. Deadwood Stage Run, LLC v. S.D. Dep't of Revenue, 2014 S.D. 90, ¶ 7, 857 N.W.2d 606, 609.

         Analysis

         1. Whether the circuit court erred in holding that a law enforcement officer's personnel file is discoverable under SDCL 23A-14-5 (Rule 17(c)).

         [¶8.] The question whether a law enforcement officer's personnel records are subject to discovery in a criminal prosecution is a question of first impression before this Court.[2] Johnson contends that these records, although confidential, are relevant to the primary issue in this case: "whether Detective Qualseth, or Johnson, was the true aggressor." Johnson asserts the records are necessary to present his defense and fully cross-examine the State's witnesses.

         [¶9.] South Dakota lacks detailed legislation specific to the production of law enforcement personnel records.[3] Accordingly, we look to statutes addressing personnel records generally and the constitutional principles involved in production of confidential materials. SDCL 1-27-1.1 broadly defines public records as including personnel records. Although public records are generally open to inspection and copying pursuant to SDCL 1-27-1.1, certain public records are not. These excluded records include "[p]ersonnel information other than salaries and routine directory information." SDCL 1-27-1.5(7).

         [¶10.] Although personnel records are statutorily protected, that protection is not absolute. A defendant has a fundamental right to proffer a defense. State v. Huber, 2010 S.D. 63, ¶ 37, 789 N.W.2d 283, 294. This includes the right to call witnesses on one's behalf and to confront and cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses for the purpose of challenging their testimony. See U.S. Const. amends. VI, XIV; S.D. Const. art. VI, § 7; State v. Beckley, 2007 S.D. 122, ¶ 9, 742 N.W.2d 841, 844. It is a basic tenant "of American jurisprudence that a statutory provision never be allowed to trump a Constitutional right." State v. Karlen, 1999 S.D. 12, ¶ 39, 589 N.W.2d 594, 602-03. In Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39, 42-43, 107 S.Ct. 989, 993-94, 94 L.Ed.2d 40 (1987), and Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308, 309, 94 S.Ct. 1105, 1107, 39 L.Ed.2d 347 (1974), the Supreme Court of the United States addressed this interplay between the important constitutional rights of an accused and public policy concerns regarding the protection of documents.

         [¶11.] In Davis, the Court held that a defendant's right to effective cross- examination under the Confrontation Clause required that a defendant be able to question an adverse witness regarding the witness's confidential juvenile record. 415 U.S. at 309, 94 S.Ct. at 1107. The Court stated, "The State's policy interest in protecting the confidentiality of a juvenile offender's record cannot require yielding of so vital a ...


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