Recently, two civil rights groups (the San Francisco branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Asian Law Caucus) filed a federal lawsuit against the San Francisco Police Department alleging that a police inspector not only violated department rules and city law whilst working with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, but the SFPD also failed to report it. The two groups, which represent Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities, specifically claim that Sgt. Inspector Gavin McEachern violated software engineer Sarmad Gilani’s civil rights back in July 2014. In that instance, the FBI’s Counterterrorism unit approached the plaintiff’s workplace at Google and asked him a handful of questions regarding his travel plans, personal blog, and political expressions on social media. None of those questions actually had anything to do with a criminal investigation, because Sarmad Gilani had not committed a crime.
The groups are specifically concerned over the violations of Gilani’s privacy guaranteed by Article 1, Section 1 of the California Constitution, as well as the laws and policies of the City and County of San Francisco and, as applicable to the police department, that department’s policies and procedures. They also filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request on Gilani’s behalf to obtain discovery over the subsequent travel issues Gilani had due to the investigation(s) on him.
The Use of the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for Criminal Cases
While public records requests and FOIA requests have traditionally been used in administrative law proceedings, it has become increasingly common for plaintiffs and criminal defense attorneys to file these requests on behalf of their clients as a means to build a defense. FOIA requests, for example, may be critical in cases to determine whether police departments violated the Fourth Amendment right against search and seizure against a particular defendant, or if there have been violations of police procedure in the handling of an inmate or defendant.
Public records request may be made through the Federal Freedom of Information Act, which covers federal agency actions (ie. the FBI’s gang task force) and in California they may also be made through the California Public Records Act to cover actions undertaken by state police or departments. See Calif. Public Records Act: Gov’t Code §6250-6268. Any member of the public may make these requests, including attorneys. The same rules apply to criminal law cases as they apply in all other cases pertaining public records.
Some things to remember about making a public records request:
- Be specific in what you are asking for;
- The agency is allowed to charge you the costs of making the copies, but not for making the request;
- The burden is on the agency to help you succeed in attaining the records; and
- There are specific confidential documents that the agency does not have to release, but the burden is also on the agency to prove that the documents are exempt from FOIA.
San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney
The Law Offices of David M. Boertje is dedicated to protecting the freedom, constitutional rights, record, and reputation of each of his clients. Our talented group of attorneys will handle every aspect of your criminal case so that you won’t have to, including all discovery and Freedom of Information Act and public records requests to build your case. We handle all misdemeanor and felony cases. Contact attorney David Boertjie today. We look forward to providing you with superior criminal defense representation.