When an attorney looks at a police report for a DUI case, what kind of things do you look for that benefit the defense? I keep hearing that attorneys will look at the police report for errors, but I also hear that errors or incorrect statements in the police report don't help at all. I know things like incorrect name spelling, location, car make/model ect... don't count for anything.
What about things like for example if 2 officers give inconsistent statements in each of their reports or if an officer says something in one document they wrote up, but in another document they say something completely inconsistent with what they wrote. Example... the officer says they "saw one thing" and in the next report they typed, they say they "did not" see one thing.
Thank you in advance
Criminal Defense Attorney
A DUI case is an "opinion" crime, generally, since the person arrested for DUI usually submits to testing of the blood-alcohol level after they have already been arrested to determine if their blood-alcohol level is above the legal limit. So, where does the opinion come in? When the investigating officer is conducting his or her investigation during a stop the officer has to gather information about the level of the driver's impairment. This is typically done through the field sobriety evaluations (checking the eyes for nystagmus, observing the walk-and-turn, and the one leg stand). The officer must administer these evaluations in a very specific way and score the results in a very specific way. Based upon these evaluations and other observations on the scene the officer then forms an "opinion" as to whether or not the driver is impaired by alcohol or some other intoxicant. That opinion then leads to the person being arrested and charged with DUI.
When reviewing a police report for errors you should have someone who knows how the evaluations are administered review the officer's notes and report. Additionally, discrepancies between officers could be really important since they would call into question an officer's observations on the scene. The report should also contain important details concerning the reason the driver was stopped and why an investigation for DUI was completed at all. These are all very important things to know since they all have important implications.
You are generally correct that administrative errors (typos, wrong descriptions, etc.) generally do not matter that much however, when considered with other evidence of sloppy work by the officer they could really bring into question the officer's investigation as a whole and provide sufficient reasonable doubt as to the driver's guilt.
However, this is just for your reference. If you have been charged with a DUI you need to spend some money and get an attorney. Don't try to do it yourself since there are all kinds of rules and procedures concerning these types of cases. Additionally, a conviction for DUI can have a dramatic impact on your insurance rates, your ability to rent a car, your job or ability to find a job. If you have a professional certification, a DUI conviction may jeapordize your certification. The bottom line is this - although you should educate yourself concerning the charge and defenses so that you can help your attorney defend you, you still need to get an attorney. Good luck!
DUI / DWI Attorney
I like to see a documented reason for a stop that is invalid. In Florida failure to maintain a single lane without effecting traffic is an excellent example. If the cop makes mistakes they can correct them but they look sloppy for making mistakes. Certain issues are very easy to challenge so that is what I look for. Nothing is better then when the cop documents a mistake they made in the police report. The reason a DUI attorney can get so much out of the report so quickly is because we are well aware of the issues that are favorable for the defense. For example in Florida a tag light stop is about impossible to beat. If the video shows the license plate light out the stops valid. On the other hand one brake light out with 2 working is a bad stop unless white light is showing. That is some random Florida law and California probably has different issues but the attorneys are aware of them and can quickly spot them in a police report. Inconsistencies hurt the officers credibility so it is beneficial to your case. If the jury doesn't believe the officer its a tough case for the state. Incorrect car make, model...... can make the cop look like a fool but do not make the case go away because they can correct the mistakes on the stand.
DUI / DWI Attorney
I look for timeline problems. I look for proper scoring of the FSTs. I look at the reason for stop - was it a legal stop, and was the driving consistent with a sober driver. Doea the officer contradict himself or other evidence on a critical issue like the driver admitted to feeling the effects of alcohol or not. There are literally hundreds of things we are lookinng for. The truth is, the more cases we handle, the more cases we try, read, the more seminars we attend, we learn more and more details that can make a difference.
DUI / DWI Attorney
I usually reiew each police report several times over time to get a full picture of the arrest.
The primary thing I look for initially is the stated reason(s) for the stop, the thoroughness of the officer's observations, and a a general feel for the individual's responsiveness, performance on the field sobriety tests (if any) and the blood alcohol level (BAC) and machines or methods used. I look for any glaring inconsistencies that do not add up. I also look for what is NOT in the report - did the arresting officer leave things out or fail to check boxes? I am trying to find things that may provide innocent explanations for facts that may appear bad at first glance.
When a person is charged with both VC 23152(a) and 23152(b), the timeline of the stop is exceedingly important, as there may be a clear defenses evident, such as a rising blood alcohol defense, Title 17 defenses, or there may be inconsistency between the officer's "objective observations" and a person's actual performance on the tests. I weigh the facts in the report with what I believe is convincing to reasonable jurors. I also look to see whether the officer used standardized field sobriety tests or others selected from a group of roadside tests that do not have the scientific validation of the SFSTs.
In my experience with pull-over cases, typically the officer reports some bad driving behavior or vehicle code violation and makes the stop, then reports only facts that bolster his opinion (and that's all it usually is) that the driver is impaired.
Often, with investigation, the officer's claims prove to be overstated. So that's what I'm looking for. In my last trial in Sacramento, the officer's report indicated "serpentine driving" and speeding. Upon cross examination, it turned out that the weaving within the lane was just for a brief few seconds, and didn't appear again over the next mile that the officer followed the driver.
As stated by my colleagues, it is certainly a wise move to retain counsel on a charge as serious as a DUI. Good luck.