POLICE REPORTS AS EVIDENCE
February 11, 2013 § 2 Comments
Police investigations and reports not infrequently play an evidentiary role in divorce and modification trials in chancery court.
A recent example is Heimert v. Heimert, handed down by the COA on November 13, 2012. In this case, Sheri and Walter Heimert had a history of physical altercations involving allegations of biting, strangling, hitting, and on and on, with the physical marks to show for it. The police were called multiple times to intervene, and two police reports, one from August, 2007, and the other from December, 2008, were offered into evidence. The December report showed that Sheri was charged with domestic violence. Her attorney objected that there was an inadequate foundation to admit it, but the chancellor let it in anyway, and Sheri complained on appeal that the report should not have been admitted.
The COA rejected Sheri’s argument. Judge Lee, for the court:
¶16. “Even though police reports, if offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted[,] are hearsay and the information within them may be based on hearsay, they may be admissible under the hearsay exception in [Mississippi] Rule [of Evidence] 803(8).” Rebelwood Apartments RP, LP v. English, 48 So. 3d 483, 491 (¶36) (Miss. 2010). Rule 803(8), entitled “Public Records and Reports,” states:
Records, reports, statements, or data compilations, in any form, of public offices or agencies, setting forth . . . (C) in civil actions and proceedings and against the state in criminal cases, factual findings resulting from an investigation made pursuant to authority granted by law, unless the sources of information or other circumstances indicate lack of trustworthiness.
¶17. The police report was taken after an investigation of domestic violence reported by Sheri. No assertion has been made that the document lacks trustworthiness. Sheri argues the police report was inadmissible because it was not authenticated. However, a document may be authenticated by the testimony of a witness with knowledge “that a matter is what it is claimed to be.” M.R.E. 901(b)(1). Sheri was a knowledgeable witness, and she submitted the police report as part of discovery. Sheri testified she was familiar with the document; thus, Sheri’s testimony was sufficient to show that the document was “what it [was] claimed to be” – the police report from December 5, 2008. See Cassibry v. Schlautman, 816 So. 2d 398, 403-04 (¶¶20-23) (Miss. Ct. App. 2001) (finding medical records submitted by plaintiff in discovery were authenticated by plaintiff’s own testimony).
¶18. Further, Sheri testified consistently with the information in the police report, and Walter testified consistently with his version of events in the police report. Thus, even if the police report was admitted into evidence erroneously, the admission was harmless, as it was cumulative. Id. at 404 (¶24) (holding admission of hearsay may be held harmless where corroborating evidence exists). Sheri complains she was prejudiced by the report because it only contained information provided by Walter. However, this is not the case. The report clearly contains information gathered from both Walter and Sheri.
¶19. Sheri was familiar with the police report, and she submitted it as part of discovery. Further, the contents of the police report were corroborated by the testimony. We find the police report was properly admitted into evidence. This issue is without merit.
In other words, Sheri was hoist with her own petard. She herself corroborated the facts in the report in her testimony, and she herself had sifted the poison pill into the recipe by providing it in discovery, thus weakening her arguments against authenticity and trustworthiness.
One is left to wonder whether Sheri’s objections would have been upheld if Walter had been the sponsor of the report, and if Sheri had truthfully denied the facts in the report. What do you think? Don’t overlook this statement by Judge Lee: “The report clearly contains information gathered from both Walter and Sheri.”