When a police officer files a report about an alleged criminal incident, it carries a lot of weight with prosecutors, and significantly increases the chances that charges will be filed against the named individuals. If there is any possibility criminal charges will be filed, a person should hire a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The veracity of the allegations in police reports is rarely questioned, which understandably creates the feeling that challenging the police officer’s statement is nearly impossible. However, a recent news story out of central California, about a man arrested on narcotics and weapons charges, demonstrates that police reports can be contested, and that California law has a procedure in place to do so. The existence of such a procedure to challenge police reports reflects the state’s recognition that police are not always right. Given that false police reports can lead to an innocent person going to jail or prison, understanding when and how to challenge one is important information to know. A discussion of several approaches for contesting the contents of a police report will follow below.
Investigation and Cross-Examination at Trial
A police officer’s report is often one of the foundational aspects of the State’s case in a criminal prosecution. Thus, exposing the contents as false can completely undermine the prosecutor’s efforts. Experienced criminal defense attorneys will know that if the possibility exists a police officer filed a false report, a private investigator should be hired to uncover evidence of the report’s false claims. Once confirmation of the report’s false claims is found, this information can be used to convince the prosecutor to drop the case.
In addition, the legitimacy of a police report can be challenged within the trial itself. A standard aspect of most criminal trials involves the investigating or arresting police officer testifying about his/her knowledge of the case. Skilled criminal defense attorneys will know how to effectively question the officer to elicit testimony that contradicts or conflicts with what is written in the police report. This type of attack will throw a lot of doubt onto the State’s case, and make it unlikely they can prove guilt.
File a Complaint
Another way to create uncertainty in the prosecution’s case is to file a complaint against the police officer with the police department. Few accused of a crime would go the trouble to file a complaint if there was no real basis for challenging the officer’s report. If the department sees enough merit to take the complaint seriously, the complaint can be used as leverage to convince the prosecutor to reduce the charges or drop the case. Alternatively, if the case makes it to trial, claims by the defense that the officer lied in the report are likely to be given more weight by the jury if a complaint was filed as well.
Petition to See Personnel Records
In addition, California allows defendants to request access to a police officer’s personnel records, called a Pitchess Motion, to see if other people reported similar misconduct regarding filing false reports. This information can be used by the defense to show a pattern of providing false information by an officer, and to gather a list of potential witnesses to call at trial that can testify about the past misconduct. Basically, this request is made when there is a belief that the officer’s wrongful actions had a significant impact on the charges filed against a person, and personnel records can provide evidence there is a history of bad behavior. Depending on what the review of the personnel file turns up, this evidence could be used to suppress evidence or dismiss the charges.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Criminal charges should never be taken lightly. If you expect to be or have been charged with a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to challenge the prosecutor’s case. The Los Angeles law firm Manshoory Law Group, APC works to get the best possible results for all their clients, and have attorneys available 24/7 to help you. Contact us for a free consultation.