When a police officer files a report regarding an alleged crime, prosecutors often use it as evidence to try and convict a suspect in court. The accuracy of the allegations in police reports is rarely questioned, which makes people feel that challenging the officer's statement is practically impossible.
However, California law has a procedure in place to contest police reports. The existence of such a procedure to challenge police reports shows that law enforcement is not always right. Since false police reports can result in innocent people going to jail or prison, it is imperative to know when and how to challenge them.
The following are several approaches to contesting the accuracy of a police report:
- Challenge the police report during the investigation stage or cross-examination at trial. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can determine whether or not a police officer filed a false report during an investigation—with or without the help of a private investigator. If evidence of a report's false claims is uncovered, this information can be used to convince the prosecutor to drop the case. During trial, an attorney can effectively question the arresting officer to elicit testimony which contradicts with what is recorded in the police report, throwing into doubt the prosecutor's case.
- File a complaint. Your lawyer can file a complaint on your behalf against the police officer with the police department. If the department sees enough evidence take the complaint seriously, it can be used as leverage to convince the prosecutor to drop the case or reduce the charges.
- Request to see the arresting officer's personnel records. According to California law, defendants are allowed to petition for access to a police officer's personnel records in order to see if other people reported similar misconduct regarding filing false reports. This information can be used by your defense attorney to establish a pattern of providing false information by a certain officer, and to gather a list of potential witnesses to call at trial to testify about the past misconduct.