Motion to View Arresting Officer's Personnel File

Pretrial motions are an essential part of an effective New Jersey DWI defense. Pretrial motions are formal requests that ask the court to take action on a particular issue. One pretrial motion used in drunk driving cases is a request to access information from the arresting officer’s personnel file.

The courts have repeatedly ruled that defendants must have access to any information that can help them prepare a defense. The arresting officer’s personnel file may reveal information that supports a defendant’s claim that the officer acted improperly. Prior complaints may include false evidence, false arrest, excessive force, racial profiling, discrimination or harassment, or criminal conduct on the part of the arresting officer.

The most common reason defense attorneys seek access to an officer’s personnel file is to support an allegation of officer dishonesty. Complaints may include allegations such as using improper tactics or illegal methods of obtaining evidence, filing a false police report, or physically abusing or threatening the defendant.

Requests to view officers’ personnel files require hearings before a judge, because the court must balance the officer’s interest in maintaining privacy against the defendant’s equally compelling rights.

These motions typically apply to all files maintained by the law-enforcement agency on the arresting officer, including citizen complaints, internal affairs investigations, and psychological medical records. However, the records the defense wishes to access must be related to the driver’s specific complaint. For example, if the driver accuses the officer of filing a false police report, he or she would be unable to access records pertaining to complaints of excessive force.

The motion must be served on the law enforcement agency that employs the officer, and include a notice specifying which records are sought, a summary of the legal arguments supporting the request for disclosure, a declaration under oath (usually by the defendant’s attorney) outlining the defenses raised and the factual justification for disclosure, and a proposed order for the judge to sign. If excessive force is charged against the officer, a copy of the police report must also be attached.

A hearing on the motion takes place in two phases. The court must first establish which records are subject to disclosure, and the judge will then review the records in question outside of the presence of the lawyers and defendant.

The judge will approve the motion only if the defense has outlined specific facts that support the requested records. A motion of this type must show good cause to be considered, but the legal standard for good cause is relatively low. The defense attorney must demonstrate only that police misconduct could or might have occurred. However, the court is not likely to grant access to outdated records, even if they involve the same type of misconduct alleged.

Motions to view an arresting officer’s personnel records can provide considerable help to a driver fighting a NJ DWI / DUI charge. A New Jersey DWI defense attorney skilled at defending driving while intoxicated cases may attempt to obtain information that can call the arresting officer’s integrity into question, if relevant in the particular circumstance, and thereby seek to create reasonable doubt in the driver’s guilt.