Part of fighting a ticket involves gathering your evidence to prove that you did not violate the law or that you have a valid defense. This may include compiling photos and diagrams, as well as getting witness statements and preparing your own testimony. Meanwhile, another important part of this process is known as “discovery.” This involves getting the evidence that the state plans to use against you, which can give you insights into its strategy. For example, you may be able to obtain the notes that the officer who stopped you made about their impressions. Discovery can help you plan your response to the state’s arguments and craft a stronger cross-examination of the officer.
If you plead not guilty in an arraignment proceeding, you can request the disclosure of notes or documents regarding your case at this stage. If you do not go through arraignment, you can start the discovery process by sending a request in the mail. You should send the request to the police agency and the prosecuting agency.
Getting the Officer’s Notes
Reviewing the officer’s notes will give you a sense of the evidence that they will provide at trial. It may be good news if the notes do not contain many details. Gaps in the notes can provide grounds to challenge the officer’s story in court. For example, the officer might not remember how they recorded your speed or might not remember the position of the vehicles when you made an allegedly dangerous maneuver. In other situations, the officer might not have been aware of an obstruction that prevented them from viewing the scene. If there is no diagram on the ticket or evidence in the notes that they were aware of the obstruction, this may be a strong defense.
You may be in a difficult position if you admitted your guilt to the officer during the stop. (Read more here about how to handle a police stop.) However, if the officer did not make a note of any admissions, they may not come back to haunt you. An officer typically will not deviate from the notes because they will not remember other details of the incident by the time of the trial and will not want to lose credibility by making a statement of which they are unsure.
Reading the officer’s notes can be challenging because they may include many abbreviations. For example, “S/V” means “subject vehicle,” “est.” means a visual estimate of a driver’s speed, and “R” means a radar unit. “L” followed by a number likely means the lane in which you were driving, which is counted from the center of the road. If you are unsure what an abbreviation means, you may be able to figure it out with strategic online searches.
Dealing with Resistance to a Discovery Request
Not every police agency or prosecutor is aware that a driver has a right to discovery. You can follow up on your request if the other side does not respond. If three weeks pass without a response, you can file a pre-trial motion to compel discovery. This means that the judge will order the police to give you the information, on penalty of dismissing the case. If necessary, you may be able to file this motion on the trial date, but you should file it sooner if possible. If the court schedules a hearing on the motion, you should bring a written copy of your discovery request and ask the judge to order the prosecution or police to provide the materials before the trial date.
You may be able to get your case dismissed if law enforcement persists in ignoring your discovery rights. Assuming that you have not waived your right to a speedy trial, a delay to allow law enforcement to comply with your discovery request could move the trial past the required time window for the speedy trial rule. You would need to show that you followed all of the applicable rules in making and renewing your request.