Police records of a murder
June 21, 2012 3:30 PM   Subscribe

How do I get copies of a police report (interviews, the evidence, and the confession) from a murder investigation in which I was involved?

Many years ago I witnessed a murder and was the victim of attempted murder. The murderer was caught, convicted, and sentenced to prison. I am preparing a statement for the parole board and I would like to review the statements I made to the detectives and police officers. I would also like to know if a certain police officer was involved in the investigation.

I would like to know how to get copies of the police report(s), the interviews, the evidence, the confession, and the names of the officers involved in the initial investigation.

1: Where do I start?
2: Who do I contact?
3: Do I need an attorney?
4: How do I find out if a certain police officer interviewed me?

Earlier questions for background reference: 1, 2

Private messages or personal experiences may be sent to anon_mefi_187@hotmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Since the murderer was convicted, the court records (in the US) would be probably available for FOIA requests. This can be complicated, depending on the municipality, but you generally go down to the courthouse, to the records department, and talk with the clerk about what information you have and what you need. If you have case numbers, that will help a lot. The court charges a nominal fee for photocopying the records.

But that's assuming your police statements were part of the court record.

You can also try going to the police department, explaining what you've said here, and then ask if they keep statements on file and if they are open to FOIA requests. (They should be, for closed cases.) For inquiries like that, you might try the captain's office -- they'll have a "public affairs" or "media relations" officer, and that person will be most skilled with handling requests for information.

For more information on how to make freedom of information requests, take a look at FOIA.gov. Your state will probably also have a FOIA (in some states FOIL) website, generally under the Department of State.

You should not need a lawyer for these requests: any citizen is legally free to access public records. Having said that, government agencies are famous for trying to dodge public record requests, and some people do end up needing to hire lawyers.
posted by brina at 3:56 PM on June 21, 2012

In most jurisdictions, the original prosecuting attorney's office is involved in parole hearings as a public and/or victim's advocate. They should have access to all files. Contacting them is also important to learn whether they will be opposing the parole application, and what the realistic opportunity for parole is. (There are many states where murderers are never paroled at their ealriest opportunities, and most parolee murderers will have done 30+ years and be in their 50s or 60s.)
posted by MattD at 4:44 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he was convicted of murder, he almost certainly appealed. That's good, because that means there will be an appellate record which will contain the most important pieces of evidence (confession, crime scene photos, etc.) plus a transcript of trial testimony. It should be easy to find out where the appellate record is located, by calling the appellate court clerk's office in your state. Going there to review the appellate record could be considerably less expensive and arduous than pursuing a FOIA request.

Chances are good that the appellate record will not contain the investigative documents (police reports, witness statements) since those often are not introduced into evidence at trial. But if you're trying to find out basically what happened the appellate record should tell you a great deal.
posted by allnamesaretaken at 4:46 PM on June 21, 2012

I'd agree with MattD about contacting the prosecuting attorney's office both to request the files and to get more information on the parole process. There is likely some kind of victim's advocate office office in your jurisdiction, available through the police, the DA, or another agency. Contact them let them know what you're looking for. That office should be very used to helping victims at parole hearings and would be a good first resource.
posted by zachlipton at 5:28 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

brina's FOIA advice is good. At my DA's office, we will take letter requests, not phone calls or personal visits for FOIL requests. You may want to look online first to see the agency's preferred method of communication. The prosecutor's office will most definitely be involved in the appeal, if any. You could contact both the prosecutor and the police to request records but the prosecutor would probably have more comprehensive files. You will be unlikely to be able to get evidence but should be able to get copies of statements/confessions, such as there are, if you explain your relationship to the case. I work a lot with these things--should you want to ask me more, please feel free to memail.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:21 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd start with the DA. They probably have an interest in keeping the murderer behind bars too, so they might even help you prepare your statement.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:51 AM on June 22, 2012

This can vary a lot from state-to-state. Most of the suggestions above are good, if you find yourself getting the runaround, feel free to memail or email me. I help people with this for a living and may be able to navigate your state's statutes and retention schedules and get you pointed in the right direction if any of the above doesn't work.
posted by marxchivist at 7:36 AM on June 22, 2012

Your first post said that the crime occurred in California. You need to contact the Victims' Services Unit of the attorney general's office. There are a ton of resources on this page and it seems like you have a lot of substantive rights.
posted by moammargaret at 2:54 PM on June 22, 2012

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