DUI Arrest Police Reports

How police reports come into play when a person is arrested and charged with driving under the influence.

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law

Whenever police arrest someone for driving under the influence (DUI) or any other crime, they write a police report summarizing the reasons for the arrest. Police reports are normally the starting point for prosecutors and defense attorneys in evaluating a DUI case. Here are some of the basics about DUI police reports.

Why DUI Police Reports Are Important

DUI police reports detail what happened from the point of view of the arresting officer. In other words, the police report explains why the officer made the arrest and the evidence the officer believes supports a DUI charge.

Police reports generally aren't considered evidence themselves. However, the report gives the attorneys an idea of what the arresting officer might testify to and what kinds of evidence could be presented at trial. With this information, the defense and prosecution can assess the probable strengths and weaknesses of the case against the defendant. Specifically, the police report gives the prosecution an indication of how they might prove the DUI charge and the defense some clues about what defenses might be available.

What Is in a DUI Police Report

Every case is different. But DUI police reports often contain information about:

  • the reason the officer pulled the defendant over in the first place
  • how the officer came to believe the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • the defendant's performance on field sobriety tests, and
  • the results of breathalyzer tests conducted before or after the arrest.

Typically, the police report will include a separate narrative of events written by each officer who was involved in the arrest. So, if three officers participated in the arrest, the police report will likely contain three officer narratives.

Justification for the Stop

Police must have a valid reason for stopping a vehicle. If an officer pulls someone over without adequate justification, any evidence of wrongdoing the officer discovers during the stop is inadmissible in court.

In most DUI cases, the initial stop is based on a traffic violation (like speeding) or the defendant driving in a manner that indicates intoxication (such as swerving). Though less common, police are also generally allowed to set up DUI checkpoints and stop all vehicles that pass through.

Whatever reason the police had for stopping the defendant's vehicle, it should be documented in the police report.

Officer's Observations of Intoxication

In cases where a motorist is swerving or otherwise driving erratically, an officer might suspect intoxication prior to making face-to-face contact. But in many other cases, an officer comes to believe a motorist is under the influence based on observations made after the initial stop.

Anything an officer notices that could indicate driver impairment is normally in the police report. For example, an officer might note that a driver smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, or had bloodshot eyes.

The observations of impairment an officer records in the police report are important because they give an indication of how the officer would likely testify in court. In trying to prove the driver was under the influence, chances are the prosecution will be relying on the officer's testimony related to these observations.

Field Sobriety Tests

In many DUI cases, the driver agrees to participate in field sobriety tests (FSTs). Police reports frequently highlight poor FST performance. As with other officer observations of intoxication, prosecutors often rely on a driver's FST failures to prove impairment.

Chemical Test Results

Implied consent laws generally require drivers who are lawfully arrested for driving under the influence to agree to a chemical test if requested to do so by an officer. Most commonly, DUI chemical testing involves a breath, blood, or urine test. Breath test results (including those of optional prearrest breath test) are available instantly, so, they're normally included in police reports. However, the results of blood and urine tests typically aren't in the police report because the samples need to be sent off to a lab for analysis, which takes some time.

How to Get a Copy of a DUI Police Report

Generally, the prosecution will give a copy of the police report to the defense at the first court date, which is normally called the "arraignment." If the initial report is later supplemented with chemical test results or other materials, the prosecution is supposed to provide the defense with the supplements as well.

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