How Can I See the Police Report when Accused of a Crime?
In Texas, there are two separate documents that people sometimes refer to as a Police Report. One is an affidavit explaining the justification for your arrest and the other is an internal law enforcement report.
NOTE: This page is only about documents available in criminal cases. This page probably won’t help if you are looking for a Police Report for an automobile insurance claim.
Probable Cause Affidavit
The court’s file should contain a document explaining why officers had “probable cause” to make an arrest. This document is a public record so anyone can review it in person at the clerk’s office. You can even buy a copy to keep for yourself. The clerk’s office charges a per-page fee for copies but, in many cases, this affidavit is only one or two pages long. Short as it is, you can expect it to have more specifics than the formal charging document.
NOTE: The exact title printed on the top of this document is not standard from one jurisdiction to the next. That said, the deputy clerk will probably know what you want if you ask to see the “Probable Cause Affidavit.”
The Offense Report is sometimes referred to as the Police Report. This document will not be in the court’s file. As a matter of law, the Offense Report is available to your criminal defense attorney via the discovery process. The Offense Report usually contains significantly more information than the probable cause affidavit described above. Unfortunately, the primary narrative is sometimes merely copied word-for-word from the probable cause affidavit. The quality of the Offense Report can sometimes give clues regarding the level of effort the officers put into investigating a case.
The rules of discovery restrict how much of the Offense Report the attorney is allowed to share. The attorney must redact personal information about witnesses like their address, telephone number, driver’s license number, social security number, and so on. The attorney may not may not allow the defendant or a witness to have copies of the Offense Report, other than a copy of their own statement. Under most circumstances, only the defendant, witnesses, and members of the defense team can see copies of evidence obtained in discovery.
Redaction Loophole: Open Records
The rules requiring redaction and limiting release to third parties to not apply to an Offense Report obtained outside the statutory discovery process. It is sometimes possible to get a complete and unrestricted copy of the Offense Report by making an open records request. Anyone can submit this type of request directly to the arresting agency in compliance with the Texas Public Information Act. The turnaround is pretty quick because public agencies only have ten business days to respond to requests for public records.
However, it is not unusual for agencies to respond with a copy that is so heavily redacted that it is practically useless. Worse yet, some agencies may simply refuse your request and seek an Attorney General’s opinion based on the statutory exception for pending cases. As a result, although Public Information Act requests are faster than the discovery process, the chance that you will actually receive all of the information you seek is rather low.