The New Jersey state Supreme Court ruled this past week that police officers cannot destroy notes taken throughout the course of an investigation, even after completing an official report. The reason is so that attorneys can have access to the initial observations of officers for use in the defense of their clients when accused of a crime.
In the past officers would discard initial notes, sometimes taken at crime scenes or when dealing with evidence. They would point to an unwritten “departmental policy” that said they were required to destroy such notes after the formal police report had been submitted. This will no longer be the case according to the recent ruling.
Not only are officers now required to hold onto the notes in case they are requested by an attorney, but they will be sanctioned if those notes are discarded. It isn’t clear what that penalty will be with the court only prescribing an “appropriate sanction” according to the Star-Ledger.
Police are concerned it’s making extra work and creating unnecessary paperwork when all of the pertinent information should be included in the final report. But for defense attorneys, being able to put their hands on these initial observations by police at the time criminal charges are issued and the arrest is made, could serve to assist them in the defense of criminal suspects.
Discrepancies between what is written in the notes and what is submitted in the final report could be cause to question the legitimacy and accuracy of the report or the officer’s version of events. In this manner, defendants would have a better opportunity for a favorable outcome.
Jon Shane, a professor at the reputable John Jay College of Criminal Justice states that it boils down to accountability. “It’s saying you can’t have policing in a half-hearted manner. It has to be in a systematic manner.”
The path of an investigation can be an extremely useful tool in building a defense when you are accused of a crime. Your attorney will want to know how the police and prosecutors developed the case and be able to examine evidence and evidence handling practices to ensure everything was done with respect to your Constitutional rights. This latest ruling makes that review process all the more thorough.
If you are facing charges, you want an attorney who will give your case the detailed and personalized attention it deserves. From reviewing the reports to analyzing the evidence, a criminal defense attorney should be willing to aggressively defend your good name in court. Contact me today to discuss how I can help you with your case.