Should a police officer's testimony be deemed more credible than the testimony of a civilian witness describing the same event?
Consider that most people confronted with a volatile one-on-one situation with a police officer will almost always lose in court when there are no other credible witnesses to a controversy and no videotape depicting the event. This is because most people still consider police officers to be peace keepers in our society that do not lie and are completely objective in their reports. Although the vast majority of police officers in the United States are 100% professionals all of the time, a few are not. This Article only relates to those few who are not.
Many experienced policemen have a way of writing a police report after in a manner that justifies their own behavior during the incident. In other words, the officer is cognizant of his or her own actions while writing the report, and mindful that his or her own actions must be justified by the overall facts of the investigation preceding an arrest, including the conduct of the arrestee prior to arrest. This is especially true where the officer's behavior itself would otherwise be deemed overreactive or aberrant in consideration of the totality of facts presented during an investigation. A police report will always justify the policeman's actions regardless of whether those actions were called for or not. It is human nature for anyone to attempt to justify one's own actions. In this process to justify one's own actions, after the fact on paper, a police report may be embellished simply to justify his or her own wrongful conduct. Many videotapes capturing footage contrary to written police reports describing the same chain of events evidences that bolstering of police reports does indeed occur. Some police officers bolster police reports based on their own fears of getting into trouble for initial misperceptions, overreacting, or abuse of force. As such, there are police reports out there in the universe that do not represent an objective renditions of facts due to personal bias and persona motives of the officer unrelated to the truth. This is just the opinion of the writer, a non-attorney, based upon having read thousands of arrest reports, and comparing those facts to other eye witness statements, and on occasion, videotapes depicting the same operative facts.
Consider this actual Broward County Florida case to illustrate this point:
Christopher Long a college freshman went to Mugs Ale House, a local beer establishment, for his friends' senior high school graduation party. By all accounts this was an underage beer drinking party. Later that night Christopher and three of his friends left the party and noticed four boys beating up- two other boys already on the ground and severely injured. Christopher and his friends casually got into Christopher's car slowly began to drive out of the parking lot. Unbeknownst to Christopher, someone in the crowd had previously called 911 and just as the police arrived on scene the crowd and the four assailants disbursed leaving the two bloodied victims on the ground. One policeman saw Christopher's car driving away, ran next to the driver's side of the car, and smacked the front windshield of the automobile with a police baton cracking the windshield. Christopher stopped the car and was immediately removed from the car, thrown onto the ground, and handcuffed. The other three passengers were questioned by police briefly and released. This was a case of mistaken identity on the part of the police officer-nothing more. The officer believed that Christopher was the aggravated battery assailant.
Keep in mind that the police officer smashed a windshield and arrested the wrong person.
The police report for this incident stated that the police officer approached Christopher's automobile from the back and ordered the driver to halt! The driver seeing the police officer behind the car put the car in reverse and accelerated to the point where the wheels spun in an attempt to run over the police officer. The policeman had to jump on the trunk of the car to avoid serious bodily injury or death. The car then accelerated forward in an attempt to flee the officer, however the officer ran along side the automobile and smacked the front windshield with his baton, cracking the windshield, and finally stopping the automobile. Christopher was arrested for battery on a police officer with a deadly weapon, a four year minimum mandatory prison sentence offense in Florida at the time. He was kept in jail with a no bond hold for several days until the truth surrounding this incident became known, from a flurry of eye witness Affidavits obtained by Christopher's attorney.
The events described in the police report never occurred as the three passengers in Christopher's car interviewed separately gave the same account of the incident. That is, nothing happened prior to everyone hearing and seeing the front windshield crack after being smacked by the police baton. These affidavits were provided to the state attorney reviewing potential criminal charges to be brought against Christopher. The state attorney recognizing that the police report was probably written by the police officer to justify breaking the windshield of Christopher's car by mistake, charged Christopher with DUI instead, notwithstanding that no DUI investigation was conducted by police at the scene.
Christopher soon thereafter pled guilty to misdemeanor DUI to avoid further trauma from this harrowing incident and moved to California to attend college.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as constituting legal advice. In fact this article was written by a non-attorney and represents a non-legal opinion of the author. You should consult with your attorney to determine the best course of action to take on your case.
Copyright 2018 All Right Reserved, by Joseph J. Pappacoda, JD, Senior Litigation Paralegal, GhostWriter Paralegal, Chartered, Fort Lauderdale, Florida