Cops Using Duplicate Reports in DUI Cases

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on July 12th, 2013

As any experienced DUI attorney knows, many police officers are considerably less than honest in their written DUI reports and in their testimony. One of the practices where this is most readily apparent is the use of what I’ve called "Xeroxed Symptoms". This is the tendency to "observe" exactly the same "symptoms" in different persons the officer arrests for drunk driving.

With Officer Jones, for example, the suspect fumbles with his wallet when getting his driver’s license, leans against the car for support, and stumbles on the eighth step out on the heel-to-toe test — in multiple cases. Officer Smith, on the other hand, seems to only encounter citizens who weave on the highway, admit to having three martinis, and in the walk-and-turn test lose their balance when turning around on the heel-to-toe.

If a criminal defendant did this, we would call it "signature" evidence. When a DUI officer does it, we call it "coincidence".

The phenomenon is so common that I described it in the original edition of my book, Drunk Driving Defense, first published 32 years ago (now in its 7th edition). "To determine whether xeroxed symptoms exist", I wrote, "counsel should include in his discovery motion a request for all reports made out by the officer in other DUI cases during a given period of time — for example, for 15 of the officer’s working days before and after the arrest". In later editions, I commented on the increasing use of computers by DUI officers to create reports — and on the tendency to "patch" text from one report into another.

These claims have, of course, been loudly and indignantly denied by prosecutors and law enforcement.

Well, imagine my surprise when a fellow DUI attorney, Cole Casey, forwarded a news article from the San Francisco Chronicle with the headlines "Suspicious Reports Ensnare Officers". The sub-headlines further declared, "False, repetitive statements filed in dozens of cases":

Seven times in the past three years, veteran Pittsburg (California) police officer James Hartley reported remarkably similar behavior by drunk driving suspects as they tried to walk a straight line…Hartley wrote in his reports that each suspect "stumbled after the second step" but kept walking, then "flung" his arm or leg out for balance before turning around, staring at the officer and asking, "Now what?".

It wasn’t a coincidence. Hartley and Officer Javier Slagado — Officer of the Year in 2001 — admit filing dozens of falsified reports. 

While it’s not clear whether the two men discussed the practice, authorities said they used old arrest reports as templates — often with few changes — rather than writing reports from scratch on drug and alcohol cases.

"In some cases, prosecutors said, entire paragraphs appeared verbatim from one report to the next. Much of the redundant information involved field sobriety tests used to establish cause for an arrest and a blood or urine test….

So what does an officer get for filing false reports, felonious perjury, and sending dozens of possibly innocent citizens to jail? Six months of watching TV at home for each.

  • CSAtlanta

    Mr. Taylor,
    It is a coincidence but an “injustice” to the justice system. Here we are trying to provide a safe, lawful environment, and we have those supposedly defending our justice, are dishonest.
    DUI may not appear as a serious offense, but when you consider the number of unnecessary deaths that are caused by drunk drivers, the statistics are overwhelming!
    We need to continue to uphold the strong judicial system in place by everyone, law enforcement included.
    Also, 3 cheers~ I agree with getting ALL reports by the arresting officer to see if reports are XEROXED!!!

  • Art

    CSAtlanta speaks out of both sides of its mouth- claims drunk drivers kill so many people (uninformed), yet also wants to be sure DUI reports are valid?

    For the record, in a year in the life of America:
    There are hundreds of thousands of auto collisions. Thousands of injuries, with no outcry.
    Thousands of pedestrians are killed crossing the street. There’s no outcry about this, ever, anywhere.
    There are about 10,000 auto deaths that are attributed to alcohol, but, what they claim is ‘contributed’ to alcohol is based on the eyes of the beholder. If a sober driver hits a drunk driver, the accident is labeled as ‘alcohol related’.
    There are 30,000 deaths by gun shots.
    There are 30,000 suicides.
    There are 10,000 untested rape kits, that allow serial rapists to continue their crimes, unchecked.
    There are 200 warrants pending against murder suspects.
    I could go on and on, but I’ll change my tact. I will introduce you to “Mother Dearest”:

    Debra Oberlin, former M.A.D.D. chapter president, was arrested for DUI February 18, 2011 in Florida after she failed the field sobriety tests. Her BACs were three times the legal limit, 0.234% and 0.239%.

  • Art

    In 2006 a Tempe, AZ (Phoenix area) motorcycle cop (Kevin Weeks) was killed on his way to work when his bike ran into debris. He was on his way to a DUI blockade, in fact. In 2005 alone, this cop was responsible for over 300 DUI arrests. Think about this number. Is this possible? Is it believable? More than one DUI arrest per working day, and he’d have to be in court as a witness for every defendant that went to trial. Think about the logistics of that, also. Then, think about the financial gain to the city of Tempe.

    Small wonder he is missed by the city- because not only did his cash register stop to function when he died- but a judge later dismissed over 100 of his pending DUI citations, for lack of a witness. You bet Tempe mourned this guy…

  • Andre Smith

    Any cops who deliberately falsify official police reports need to be stripped of all rank and promptly fired.

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  • There must be strict rules for this kind of activities. Firing is not the option but there should me hard punishment if they are found involved in this kind of fraud activities.