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What If There's a Mistake On Your Police Report?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 06, 2015 4:06 PM

One of the most persistent myths regarding criminal law is that if an officer makes a mistake on your police report, your charges get dropped. Not only is it highly unlikely an error on a report will result in dropped charges, police report mistakes, whether substantive or merely spelling, can work against you.

So what can you do if there's a mistake on your police report? Generally, it will depend on the kind of mistake.

Mistake of Fact

Mistakes of fact include spelling errors, mis-transcribed social security or phone numbers, or confusion about details of a crime or car accident. These mistakes can usually be corrected by amending the police report. As long as you can provide officers with documentation regarding the error, they will file an amended report correcting the mistake.

For instance, if the officer made a mistake copying your license plate number, you can show them your registration or photos and have the mistake fixed. Even larger mistakes of fact, like whether you own the home or vehicle involved in a crime, might be corrected through proper documentation.

Mistake of Judgment

A police officer's judgment calls, on the other hand, are more difficult, if not impossible to change. For instance, if you disagree that your car smelled like marijuana before the officer decided to search it, the officer's recollection is going to stay on the report.

Additionally, you probably won't be able to change witness statements in a police report. Even if you're certain the light was green, someone else's recollection that it was red will probably stand.

But, just because these judgments are in a police report does not make them facts in a court of law. You can always challenge a person's memory of events or an officer's accusation at trial.

Mistake of Law

This is a bit trickier. If an officer is mistaken as to the statute or whether certain behavior constitutes a crime, it's possible to have a report amended or charges dropped. Let's say an officer gives you a ticket for only having one functioning tail light, but the statute only says you need a "stop lamp." In that case, you may not have violated the law at all.

However, if a an officer pulls you over for only having one functioning tail light and then finds drugs in your car, there's not much you can do. A reasonable mistake of the law doesn't necessarily bar criminal charges or a conviction.

If the police or prosecutors are unresponsive to your requests to change a police report, you may have to contact a criminal attorney to help you.

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