A frequently asked question I get from prospective clients is “how do I get the police report?” They sometimes follow up with: “I was told to get if from the police department by the DA, and when I went to the police department they told me I have to get it from the DA!” My usual response to their question is, “you don’t, I get it for you.” I say this quasi-jokingly of course. It is possible for a non-attorney to get the police report, but before I disclose the secret code, let me explain my smart-ass response above.
I usually tell my clients, “you don’t, I get it for you” because I assume that if they’re calling a lawyer they’re at least considering hiring one. If you do hire a lawyer, that lawyer then becomes your legal representative. To put it complicatedly, we become your agent, and you are our principal. You give us authority to act on your behalf, and we exercise that authority through actions such as requesting discovery (evidence). In short, we do the work to get you the report.
Your lawyer gets the police report through the process of “discovery.” What’s discovery ask? Discovery is the process by which both parties to the action (the DA and defendant) exchange evidence. There are rules for how evidence is exchanged and which evidence must be turned over. Thankfully, when it comes to what evidence a criminal defendant is entitled to, the police report falls squarely within the list of things the prosecutor must turn over.
Now, if you decide to represent yourself, you are also entitled to the same discovery a lawyer representing you would be entitled to. There’s only one minor issue… If you represent yourself you are assumed to have the same skill and knowledge of a lawyer licensed to practice law in the state of California. You are not supposed to be given any breaks or assistance from the court if you decide to defend yourself. Therefore, the rules of evidence have to be followed, as do proper procedures. As I stated earlier, you are entitled to the police report, but getting it may pose a challenge to a non-lawyer. Technically the prosecutor or police department (in certain infraction cases in certain counties) must turn over the police report on their own accord pursuant to Evidence Code 1054.1. However, the Evidence Code also states that before a party can seek court enforcement of disclosure of evidence like the police report, there must first be an “informal request.” Ev. Code 1054.5(b) This informal request is also called an Informal Discovery Request, and it is a document sent to the DA demanding certain evidence be disclosed. The DA then has 15 days to send the opposing party the discovery demanded.
These are the two ways a person can get ahold of the police report. There are other ways a person can get a police report, but it’s usually done through an attorney, or by representing yourself and jumping through some technical hoops. There are resources that exist that can help a person create his or her own Discovery Request, but there are major drawbacks to self-representation. It’s always in a person’s best interest to consult an attorney before deciding to represent oneself. The Law Offices of Matthew S. Luzaich provides free legal consultations, call today to speak with Mr. Luzaich about your criminal case.