Fundamentals of Criminal Investigations
Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.
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Section 6.5: Report Writing and Testimony
The world’s most talented and brilliant investigator is completely useless to the justice system if that investigator can’t write high-quality reports. In the justice system, “if it ain’t on paper, it didn’t happen” always applies. Investigative reports written by police officers aren’t that different than those written by journalists: Both seek to answer the who, what, when, where and why questions. In a police report, the who, what, when, where and why questions are concerning a matter that has come to the attention of the police. The amount of effort and detail that goes into answering these questions largely depends on the seriousness of the matter and an officers estimation of what will be relevant later. Departments also have report writing policies, and the particulars of forms, formatting, and content may be dictated to some degree by departmental policy.
Reports represent the department’s official and complete record of how officers responded to an incident as well as the particulars of an incident. They provide a critical record for other officers conducting follow up and continuing criminal investigations. They supply the courtroom workgroup important information on which to base decisions about searches, seizures, arrests, and prosecutions. They also supply critical information for criminal justice databases and planning at all levels of government.
Exculpatory evidence is evidence favorable to an accused. It includes not only evidence which tends to exonerate an accused, but also evidence which may diminish his culpability or mitigate punishment should he be convicted of a crime. It also includes impeachment evidence such as evidence that may undermine the credibility of a witness for the prosecution.
The duty to disclose exculpatory evidence by the prosecutor applies irrespective of whether or not there has been a request by the accused. Impeachment evidence, as well as exculpatory evidence, must be disclosed to a defendant.
Non-disclosure of evidence favorable to an accused by the State violates the discovery law irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the investigator or prosecutor. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutorial agencies may be ordered by a court to make their complete files available to a defendant. The term file includes the defendant’s statements, the co-defendant’s statements, witness statements, investigating officer’s notes, results of tests and examinations, or any other matter of evidence obtained during the investigation of the offenses alleged to have been committed by the defendant.
Once the State provides discovery, a continuing duty exists to disclose the existence of additional evidence. The prosecutor must be made aware of any such additional evidence immediately and written notification should be made as soon as possible. This continuing duty to disclose applies before, during, and after trial.
Interviews should be paraphrased, written in the third person, and in the past tense. Verbatim quotations may be used if deemed essential to the investigation and can be attributed to a specific source. Copies of written statements should be incorporated into the report as an attachment. Question and answer reporting should only be used if it is critical to the investigation that the report contains the precise wording used by two or more parties.
Notes are defined as any initial written documentation of investigative activity created as part of a criminal investigation. This would include, but not be limited to, initial documentation of crime scenes, interviews, surveillance, record searches, analytical notes regarding evidence or records examined or seized, or any other matter of evidence obtained during the investigation of the offense. Additionally, notes would include written documentation of investigative processes such as the development of lead sheets and completion of pertinent forms utilized during the investigative process.
There are various methods and procedures for note taking. Some Agents use complete sentences, some use keywords and phrases, many use abbreviations. You as the interviewer should use the method that you are most comfortable with and meets your needs in report preparation.
With the exception of quotes, statements made by interview subjects do not have to be recorded in the exact language used by the subject. The meaning of the statement as recorded must hold true to the meaning of the statement as given.
An Investigative Case Number is comprised of the current year and the next sequential case number in the Case Records Management System (CRMS). Upon initiating an investigation, the Agent must obtain a case number from the Case Records Management System (CRMS).
Modification History File Created: 05/02/2019 Last Modified: 06/11/2019
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