Can Police Reports Be Used as Evidence?
A police report is a written record made by an officer, describing an incident to which police have responded or have been involved. But can a police report be used as evidence?
When a person has been arrested and accused of a crime, a police report can be a significant source of information about the circumstances surrounding the arrest. But by definition, police reports are hearsay: an out-of-court statement, used to prove the truth of the matter asserted (i.e., to prove the truth of what's stated in the report).
Hearsay evidence is generally inadmissible in court, as anyone who's ever watched a television show in which the lawyers scream "Objection! Hearsay!" during crucial moments of a trial doubtlessly knows. So how do lawyers get around this hearsay presumption for police reports?
Although evidence rules vary by state, there are generally numerous exceptions to the hearsay rule that allow police reports to be used as evidence in court. These include:
- Business records. Records that are made in the normal course of "business" -- which includes the records made by government agents such as police officers -- are generally admissible in court.
- Refreshed recollection. Witnesses may also be allowed to use a written document to refresh their memory when testifying in court.
- Past recollection recorded. When a witness is unable to accurately recall an event, a writing that was made at a time when the memory of the event was fresh may be introduced as evidence.
Obtaining a Police Report
Police reports will generally be provided to a criminal defendant pursuant to a law that requires prosecutors to turn over any potentially exculpatory evidence.
But police reports can also be obtained even by those who have yet to be charged with a crime, by requesting a copy from the police department. In addition, police reports may be obtained for use in injury lawsuits involving car accidents or other events to which police may have responded.
Find out more about the how evidence may be used in a criminal case at FindLaw's section on Criminal Evidence.
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