Question: If a peace officer forgets to write down every fact from a traffic stop, should the evidence collected from the stop be suppressed?
Quick answer:It depends. Even with some details left out of your report, your statement may still be found credible and provide probable cause for the suspect’s arrest.
Facts: About 8 p.m., a police sergeant watched a blue pickup truck run a stop sign. The truck stopped in the middle of the intersection and backed up to let the officer’s cruiser through the four-way stop. The officer drove through the intersection, and in his rearview mirror he saw the blue pickup make a left turn. The turn was so wide that the truck almost ran over some mailboxes on the side of the road. The sergeant pulled his vehicle over to allow the truck to pass. He then pulled the truck over for the traffic violations. The driver, Bobby Napier, showed typical indications of alcohol use: strong odor of alcohol, glassy eyes, and slurred speech. Napier admitted that he drank two to four beers that evening, and he ultimately failed a battery of standard field sobriety tests. He was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OVI).
The officer’s notes of the arrest didn’t include Napier’s glassy eyes or slurred speech, incorrectly recorded details about Napier’s performance on the tests, and were not written until three to four hours after the stop.
Why the case is important: Even though there were inconsistencies between the officer’s report and his testimony, the court of appeals found there was both reasonable suspicion to stop Napier and probable cause to arrest him for OVI. However, the court explained that finding reasonable suspicion and probable cause depends on the totality of the circumstances.
Keep in mind: Good report writing protects your credibility. Write them when your memory is fresh, and record as many details as you can remember. The inconsistencies in this case were relatively minor, but major inconsistencies or sloppy report writing can put your credibility and professionalism in doubt.
to read the entire opinion.