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An Overview of Internal Affairs Investigations in California

An Overview of Internal Affairs Investigations in California

Your job as a police officer is to investigate crimes and send criminals away. What if you are accused of a crime and Internal Affairs contacts you?

The California internal affairs defense lawyers at our firm can help you. Among our ranks are former cops and prosecutors. We are aware of how the system works and can represent cops accused of criminal or administrative misconduct.

In this article, we offer you an overview of IA investigations in California. We cover:

  • How internal affairs investigations work
  • What are the rights of police personnel in an IA investigation?
    • POBRA
    • The Lybarger Admonishment
    • Your Constitutional Protections
  • What can an internal affairs defense attorney do?

You will also find our articles on Criminal Defense of Police Officers and California State Employees and Criminal Convictions helpful.

How internal affairs investigations work

What is an Internal Affairs Investigation?

An Internal affairs investigation is an investigations into possible misconduct and/or criminal activity by officers in a law enforcement agency.

Administrative or Criminal investigation?

An administrative internal affairs investigation focuses on whether an officer has committed noncriminal work-related misconduct.

Criminal internal affairs investigations examine whether an officer has committed a crime. These can result in criminal prosecution and incarceration.

Other Agencies May Investigate

In some cases, other entities besides the officer’s employing agency could become involved.

Sometimes, federal officials come in to investigate when a possible civil rights violation was committed. This happened in the historic 1991 Rodney King case.

As a rule, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office must investigate any case of an officer-involved shooting or in-custody death.

On top of this, police commissions, inspector generals and outside watchdog agencies may provide additional oversight.

What are the rights of police personnel in an IA investigation?

Depending on the situation, an officer who is the subject of an IA interrogation can rely upon a number of statutory and constitutional provisions for protection.


This California statute (Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights) applies to all administrative internal affairs investigations.

POBRA establishes conditions with which an employing law enforcement agency is required to comply in an interrogation that could lead to “punitive action” in the form of written reprimand, demotion, suspension, dismissal, salary reduction, or transfer as a consequence.

POBRA lists protections as follows:

  1. Any interrogation generally must be conducted at a reasonable hour, preferably while the officer is on duty. It must only endure over a reasonable period.
  2. The interrogating officer and others present must inform the officer being interrogated of their ranks, names and command.
  3. No more than two interrogators may ask questions at a time. Further, the officer being interrogated must not be subjected to any offensive language.
  4. Before the interrogation, the officer must be informed of the nature of the investigation.
  5. The officer getting interrogated is allowed to bring his or her own recording device to the interrogation.
  6. Anytime an interrogation is based on matters that could possibly result in punitive action, that officer can be represented by a union representative or California internal affairs investigation defense lawyer.
  7. If, at any point prior to or during the interrogation, it is deemed that the officer could be charged with a crime, that officer must immediately be informed of his or her constitutional rights.

POBRA applies only to administrative investigations that are conducted by an officer’s employing agency. These rights do not apply in investigations that are “concerned solely and directly with alleged criminal activities.”

Additionally, according to the California Supreme Court’s interpretation, POBRA provides one more protection. Should it be “deemed” during an internal affairs investigation that a police officer could be facing criminal charges, he or she must be read their Miranda rights.

The Lybarger Admonishment

Just like other employees, police officers must follow orders from their superiors – even during a California internal affairs investigation. If their commanding officer orders them to answer a question and they remain silent, that officer risks being disciplined for insubordination.

Nevertheless, the officer retains their Fifth Amendment constitutional right against compelled self-incrimination.

How the United States Supreme Court has reconciled these conflicting provisions is by clarifying that the cop in this circumstance retains immunity as to “compelled” statements. Pursuant to the Garrity/Lefkowtiz rule, an officer may be disciplined for standing silent in the face of an order, but any subsequent compelled statement (and any evidence that comes from such a statement) cannot be used against the cop in a criminal prosecution.

Pitchess Motions

In a Pitchess motion, the defendant in a criminal case can request access to an officer’s personnel file. In such cases, the defense is looking for witnesses who filed prior complaints against the officer. They can potentially use these witnesses to impeach the officer at trial.

Your Constitutional Protections

A peace officer also has their Fourth Amendment constitutional right against unreasonable search and seizure, and their Sixth Amendment constitutional right to counsel to rely upon.

What this means is that cops may not be arrested without probable cause, subjected to unreasonable detention, refused access to counsel or otherwise forced to endure conscience-shocking treatment at the hands of law enforcement.

Nevertheless, things can get hairy when it comes to interrogations of police officers by their employers. The line between an employer or enforcer becomes blurry. One can, therefore, float in a rather uncomfortable gray area between a California internal affairs investigation and an arrest.

What can an internal affairs defense attorney do?

You probably know at least one case in which a skilled criminal defense lawyer helped a suspect get out of trouble. Surely you should reap the same benefits if you happen to be a suspect, right?

The IA lawyers at Spodek Law Group, still keep cop hours –one of us is always available. Whether you have been involved in a critical incident, or you’re facing an internal affairs interrogation or criminal charge, we’re here to stand with you.

As former police personnel ourselves, we know how to handle IA, the media and other parties who could be involved. We can help you navigate the process so you get the full benefit of your rights and protections.

The California Internal Affairs Defense Attorneys at Spodek Law Group Can Help You.

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