As family law attorneys we frequently hear from our clients that the police are involved in their cases. There may be a domestic violence report, one of the parties may have been arrested for driving while under the influence, or one of the children may have been involved in a police matter.
This article is meant to help and guide family law attorneys through the trauma of trying to get reports and other information from local law enforcement agencies. I spent twenty-eight years with Walnut Creek Police Department, first as an officer, then as a detective, and finally as a sergeant. I attended John F. Kennedy University School of Law while I was assigned as a detective. I graduated and passed the bar but continued to work for the police department until I retired in April 2002.
COMMUNICATING WITH THE LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY
Attitude, Attitude, Attitude!! Police personnel are happy to help you. Please communicate with their offices as you would with court staff, with respect and dignity. Do not approach with the attitude you are an ATTORNEY and they are there to do your bidding. Most police officers are college educated, many have graduate degrees, and they know what they are doing. They are professionals and know their assigned jobs.
Do not tell them that you, or your client, has the “right to know!” There is nothing that sets the tone more negatively than the term “right to know.” I must admit that they mostly hear that phrase from reporters and not from attorneys but you might as well start off on the right foot.
WHAT DOES THE AGENCY HAVE THAT YOU WANT?
Before making a request for information, carefully look at everything you already know and determine what information you need. The law enforcement agency has reports, evidence, statement of Officers/ Deputies, Dispatch radio recordings, Dispatch telephone recordings and the State has Criminal History Reports (RAP Sheets). You may also want to speak directly to the officers who wrote the reports or were on the scene during the incident.
It really does not work to walk into the station and say “give me everything you have for the Jones family living on Pine Street”. Every time the police respond to a call for service or individual officers initiate a contact with a citizen there is something written. It may be a computer entry with the basic information on the contact or it may be an actual written report. The written reports are done differently by each agency but basically there is a report reflecting all the names and identifying information of the parties, the witnesses, the officers present, the evidence, and, of course, what everyone said and what the officers concluded about the incident. If someone was arrested or injured that is also included in the report.
Along with the reports, there are evidence lists, photographs, and statements that are written by the victims, witnesses and officers. These may be on separate reports or forms. The officers may also have written supplemental reports that reflect the information they gathered in their investigations after the initial investigation. Some of these records are available to you through the request process or subpoena and some are not.
One very good place to look for information that may help your family law case, specifically a domestic violence case, is the Dispatch recordings. All the telephone calls into the dispatch center are recorded, including 911 calls and non-emergency calls. All radio traffic between dispatch and officers is recorded. The law requires law enforcement agencies to retain these recordings for 200 days. You can subpoena a copy of the telephone and subsequent radio dispatches to the officers and their radio responses. The bottom line is to outline what you want and ask for it. It is important to ask for a particular item rather than just “give me everything”.
GUIDELINES FOR RELEASE OF REPORTS
Not every report is available for release. It depends on the subject matter of the report and how the requesting party is involved. There are two primary requirements for the release of a report to a civilian:
- There must have been a crime committed. In all cases a crime must have been committed and reported in the report or the report will not be released; and
- Your client must be the victim or one of the victims.
Every person identified in a police report is classified as a victim, suspect, witness, reporting person or law enforcement personnel. Only victims and their representative(s) will be eligible to receive a copy of the report. Government Code 6254. Basically you can expect to get the following:
- Names and addresses of persons involved;
- Property involved (stolen, vandalized, lost, found, in dispute);
- Date, time location of the incident;
- All diagrams, statements of the parties and statements of witnesses;
You will not get the investigating Officer’s conclusions or analysis or supplemental reports made during a continuing investigation. Referring to Government Code 6254(f) “However, nothing in this division shall require the disclosure of that portion of those investigative files that reflects the analysis or conclusions of the investigating officer.”
It depends on how strict the department you are requesting the report from is in monitoring report releases but they are supposed to remove the analysis and conclusions from the report.
Another consideration in determining the release of a report is if juveniles are named in the report. If there are named juveniles (they may be the suspect, victim, witness or just present) you will have to request release of juvenile reports.
APPLICATION FOR RELEASE OF INFORMATION
Here are the steps in requesting the standard release of information:
- Determine the report number or the date/time/location so the report can be identified. You can get the report number from your client (Officers usually leave a business card with the number on it), the daily bulletin or log, or by calling the Department and asking;
- Determine that the report you are requesting is a crime report;
- Make sure you have something that shows you are representing the victim in the crime. If you do not, have your client get the report;
- Complete the Application for Release of Information;
- Submit the request to the law enforcement agency’s records bureau.
WHAT WILL NOT BE RELEASED BY REQUEST ONLY
Even if your request meets all the requirements for release there are some things that you will not be able to get using the standard release request. The following generally are not released:
- Investigative supplements;
- Crime scene photographs;
- Photographs of the victims, suspects or witnesses;
- Reports where the case has already been sent to the District Attorney’s Office for a complaint;
- Outside agency assistance cases (this means that the law enforcement agency you are requesting the report or information from actually did an investigation or responded to an incident upon the request of another agency or was outside the jurisdiction of the agency. You will have to request the report or information from the other agency);
- Reports that are not yet completed. This includes reports that are still waiting to be reviewed by the supervisor of the investigating Officer(s).
The solution to the problem of not being able to get the above is to request the report or information using the more formal method of Civil Subpoena. Using the subpoena method takes longer and requires notice to all persons in the report but you will get more.
A subpoena should get you the entire report including the supplementals. You must serve the Notice to Consumer when you serve the subpoena. Make sure you serve a Notice to Consumer on every party, witness, Officer, victim and suspect. If you do not, you may find that the name and identifying information of the person you did not serve has been redacted from the report.
RELEASE OF JUVENILE CASE INFORMATION
Requesting the release of reports and information containing juveniles is more complicated and each case must be reviewed by the Presiding Juvenile Judge. “Juvenile Case Information” is any case that includes the name of a juvenile whether named as a victim, suspect or witness. If the children are not named, there is no need for a Juvenile Case Information request and the report can be released through a Request for Information.
To have your request considered you must have the following:
- There must be a crime involved;
- Interest in the case must be as:
- Parent/Guardian of Victim;
- Insurance Company representing Victim;
- Attorney representing Victim.
You should also be aware that all law enforcement agencies, including the Court, Probation and Parole can receive copies of any law enforcement reports. This includes Federal, State and Local law enforcement agencies. The provisions for release of juvenile information are contained in CRC Rule 5.552 and Welfare and Institutions Code 827 and 828. Only the Presiding Juvenile Judge has the authority to release juvenile reports and records.
The Judge must review every request for release and make a decision of what to release in each case. If your request for juvenile information is denied using the form then you will have to use the formal method of petitioning the Court for release of the information. With the exception of those permitted to receive copies without a court order everyone else must petition the court using Petition for Disclosure of Juvenile Court Records (form JV-570). Ten day notice must be given to the juvenile using the Notice of Request for Disclosure of Juvenile Case File (form JV-571).
It is very important to note that CRC Rule 5.552(2)(A)(4) specifically states: Juvenile case files may not be obtained or inspected by civil or criminal subpoena.
WHAT YOU WILL GET
You may get the following information:
- Names of all parties involved (victim(s), witness(es), suspect(s) and Officers);
- Statements of all the parties (victim(s), witnesses, suspect(s) and Officers).
If the Judge does not release the documents you will receive a letter advising you the request was denied. Alternatively you may receive a redacted report containing only the information the Judge feels is appropriate for release.
It may seem that the law enforcement agency is trying to avoid releasing the information you are requesting but in actuality they are trying to remain within the guidelines they have been given based in the government codes. If you know what you are asking for, that your request is for information to which you are legally entitled, and know how to make the request you should be able to get information that you can use in your family law case.
Richard Grossman is an attorney with DOYLE GOLDE GROSSMAN Family Law Group in Danville focusing primarily on family law matters. He retired as a Police Sergeant after 28 years with the Walnut Creek Police Department. His police career included 17 years in the patrol division and 11 years in the detective bureau.
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