Police Reports: Dishonesty by Omission

June 16, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rbcriminallaw.com

(972) 369-0577

Here’s Minneapolis PD’s press release from the George Floyd murder:

Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 8.23.03 AM

Of course, this was before they knew they’d been caught on a camera they didn’t control. It’s fiction.  They left out the part where Officer Chauvin had his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck.  Or that he had it there for nine minutes.  Nothing to see here, folks.  Move along, right?  Even worse, MPD paints themselves as the heroes of this story.  “Even though we didn’t do anything wrong, we called for an investigation…”

Are the statements actually made in the press release true or false?  Well, I suppose most are actually true.  He did appear to be suffering medical distress.  An ambulance was called (way too late), and no weapons were used assuming you don’t count Officer Chauvin’s knee.

Yet, the press release is a work of fiction because it omits critical and relevant aspects of the truth.

And this is how many, many police reports we review on a regular basis deceive as well.  A DWI report might say things like, “suspect did not know his location, stumbled out of the car, and had red bloodshot eyes” where those things are apparent.  But you’ll never see a report which says, “He knew where he was, exited the vehicle perfectly and his eyes looked normal” even if they are true too.  Fiction.

A common example I give to client’s about why they should exercise the 5th Amendment is this:

  • You:  My friend and I went to the party.  We didn’t see anyone there we really knew.  It was very uncomfortable.  I think we finished about half of a beer each and we decided to leave.
  • Police Report:  Suspect admitted entering the house.

Does the report say anything untrue?  I suppose not.  But its a lie.

The public gets a small taste with this news snippet of the perennial challenge of trying to take police reports at face value.  You just can’t.  Even when reports don’t exaggerate or don’t outright state mis-truths, then can still be extremely dishonest.

Part of the process of defending someone is filling in the gaps which comprise the truth.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is currently designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.

 


Can You Show the Arresting Officer’s Disciplinary Record in Trial?

February 12, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

www.rosenthalwadas.com

It’s possible but it’s certainly not a given.

The Texas and Federal Rules of Evidence try to keep trials from turning into free-for-all mud slinging contests.  Imagine how ridiculous a trial would be if every officer could be drilled on the witness stand about their 4th grade report card.  Then again, if an officer has taken part in shenanigans which call his/her word into question — it might be key for a jury to know.

Two Rules — What the Judge MUST Allow and What they MAY Allow

The rules categorize prior conduct of a witness into two main categories.  Evidence that a judge must allow the jury to see and evidence the judge has the discretion to allow jurors to see depending on the circumstances.

Crimes of Moral Turpitude 

Under Tex.R.Evid. 609, evidence of a prior conviction for a crime of moral turpitude (typically crimes that involve honesty) shall be admitted as well as any felony conviction provided the conviction was in the last ten years.  This gives courts a bright-line, stringent test for allowing prior conduct into evidence.

The problem is that disciplinary action against an officer is virtually always going to fall short of the requirements under rule 609.  Good police agencies will fire an officer for any conduct which could be used to torch the officer repeatedly on the witness stand… and clever police agencies know not to make reports of misconduct in writing unless they absolutely have to.

A combination of other rules may, in certain instances, allow general impeachment of an officer based on past incidents of misconduct even if those bad acts fell short of being convictions required by rule 609.

Rules Which Allow You to Get Into the Officer’s Records 

Tex.R.Evid. 404(b), 405(b) 608, and 611 which you can read here combine to give a judge the ability to determine whether to allow a jury to hear evidence of bad conduct of a police officer (or any other witness for that matter).

Situations where a prior bad act by an officer would be allowed in evidence or excluded from evidence are like snowflakes in their ability to be unique and unpredictable.

An example where it may be admissible, however, is where a specific incident of police misconduct in the past is extremely similar to an occurrence in the present case — and the prosecutor has left the jury with a clear mis-impression that the office has a perfect history.  For instance where a police officer who routinely makes DWI arrest coincidentally has his microphone go off when giving instructions on field sobriety tests time after time against department policy.  At some point “I forgot to check my microphone batteries before my shift” quits working as an excuse.

These scenarios are typically very complex.  If you have questions about a specific case you should bring it to your attorney’s attention to see under what circumstances an officers past problems may be brought to the jury’s attention.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any specific situation you should contact an attorney direction.  Contacting the attorney through this forum does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Communications through this forum are not confidential or privileged.


Dallas Morning News Articles on Police Alcoholism

January 18, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 562-7549

www.thecollincountylawyer.com

The Dallas Morning News ran articles about police and alcohol abuse this past weekend (January 14, 15, and 16, 2012).  The articles included this article about a passenger of a car driven by a drunk, off-duty officer, this article about the culture of drinking and alcohol abuse within the police force, and this article about the toughening up of licensing requirements for officers who have committed alcohol related offenses.

These articles are very in-depth about this overlooked topic.  To be outraged and grandstand about what may, on it’s face, appear as mild hypocrisy (how many times do we see the friendly life-lecture on COPS?) misses the point with bad police behavior.  What needs to be focused on is that police are people too.  They’re vulnerable to peer pressure, they have psychologically demanding jobs, and they — like all of us — are products of the environment of which they live day in and day out.

Understanding police psychology including the understanding of police culture is essential in defending people accused by the police of wrongdoing whether it be DWI or any other offense.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.  Contacting the attorney through this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship.  Communications sent through this blog are not confidential.