Are Police Reports Admissible in Motorcycle Cases in NJ?
After a motorcycle accident, the police should be called to the scene to render aid and document important details. These details are usually recorded in an official report that might come up in a lawsuit.
In New Jersey, police reports can be admitted as evidence in a civil trial, but only to a certain extent. While facts and observations from the report are admissible, opinions and conclusions are not. The issue becomes a bit more complicated when expert witnesses are involved. Experts often rely on police reports for important data on which they base their own opinions.
After a motorcycle crash, the police report, or at least parts of it, might be an important piece of evidence in your case. Our NJ motorcycle accident attorney, Jerry Friedman, can help you use the report to your advantage. For a free case review, call 1-800-529-4464.
How to Use Police Reports in Your NJ Motorcycle Accident Case
The word of law enforcement officials carries much weight, and people often trust information from the police about investigations. Courts do not always see it this way, and things like police reports are not automatically admitted as evidence because they might be considered hearsay, as discussed further below. Even so, whether or not the police report from your accident is admissible evidence, our Newark motorcycle accident attorneys can use it to your advantage in multiple ways.
Building the Case
Building up your case often begins by reviewing the police report from your motorcycle accident. A plethora of valuable information might be contained in the report, even though some might not be admissible in court. Rather than hold up the police report in court, our team can use the information from the report to find admissible evidence.
For example, the police report might contain statements from witnesses who said they saw the defendant driving recklessly before slamming into you and your motorcycle. Rather than try to admit those states from the report in court, we can use the report to track down the witnesses who made those statements and ask them to testify in court about what they saw.
Testifying as a witness can be nerve-racking. Witnesses often stumble through their testimony or completely forget important details. In such cases, attorneys can use things like police reports to refresh the recollection of the person testifying. The report is not read aloud to the court but is instead quietly reviewed by the witness. In many cases, this tactic is used when a witness made a statement to the police about the accident, the police put that statement in the report, and the witness forgets about that statement on the witness stand.
Impeaching a Witness
Similar to refreshing a witness’ recollection, we can use the police report to impeach a witness or undermine their credibility. This strategy often comes up when a witness is lying or embellishing their testimony. For example, the police might have interviewed a witness about your motorcycle accident who said they saw the defendant drinking heavily shortly before the crash. Such a statement would likely be contained in the police report. Next, suppose that same witness gets on the witness stand and says they never saw the defendant before the crash. In that case, we could use the police report to show that they told a very different story to the police earlier.
Can I Use a Police Report from a Motorcycle Accident in NJ as Evidence?
While a police report about a motorcycle accident might be rich with useful information, it might not be completely admissible. While certain aspects of the report can be used in court, other aspects are barred as hearsay. Hearsay includes statements or declarations (written and oral) made by someone not in court and not presenting the information on the witness stand.
Police reports are often considered hearsay because they are usually written by police officers with no first-hand knowledge of the accident. Instead, they gather information from people who witnessed the accident. Our Paterson motorcycle accident lawyers can help you review the police report and determine what information can and cannot be used.
According to New Jersey Rules of Evidence 803(c)(8), public records may be admissible in court even though they are otherwise considered hearsay. Public records include documents and records compiled by public government agencies.
The rule regarding police reports and public records has also been fleshed out in New Jersey courts. It has been held that facts contained in public records might be admissible as records of regularly conducted activity and as public records, both of which get around the rule against hearsay (see Manata v. Pereira). This means that the facts and information in the police report from your motorcycle accident might be admitted in court as evidence.
This is incredibly useful to your lawsuit, as important details about the crash, drivers, vehicles, and injuries may be admitted in court. This information can be used to establish who was involved in the crash, where the crash occurred, the extent of damage, and other crucial details that might be in dispute.
Opinions and Conclusions
Unfortunately, not every aspect of the police report from a motorcycle accident is admissible evidence. In the case of Villanueva v. Zimmer, the court allowed only facts from records of regularly conducted business or public records (i.e., police reports) to be admitted in court. Opinions or conclusions contained within a police report are inadmissible hearsay.
If the officers investigating your crash include their own conclusions about how the accident happened and who is to blame, we cannot use their conclusions in court. These conclusions are based on information from second-hand sources like witnesses. Unless the police witnessed the accident directly, their opinions about it are inadmissible.
What is Contained in a Police Report for a Motorcycle Accident in NJ?
You must contact the police immediately after a motorcycle accident, even if you think the accident was not severe. You could have unseen injuries that might not reveal themselves until later, and you might need to file a lawsuit to get your costly damages covered by the negligent driver who hit you. Once you contact the police, speak to our Jersey City motorcycle accident lawyers for legal assistance.
The police report contains a myriad of details about the crash. The police are trained to investigate crashes and have the tools and experience to observe, measure, and record accurate data. For example, various measurable facts about the crash may be recorded and contained in the police report. The distance between vehicles, measurements of tire marks, and identifying details (e.g., make, model, color) of vehicles should be in the report.
The report may also contain important information about the people involved. The number of drivers involved in the crash, passengers, and witnesses might all be mentioned in the police report. This might be useful later if one of the other parties tried to claim they were not involved in the accident.
The police should also take notes about damage. If your motorcycle has only minor damage, moderate damage, or is completely totaled, it should be described in the police report. Other important details about the crash, like the location and injuries, should also be in the report.
In addition to facts and measurable data, the police may include conclusions and opinions drawn from the facts of the crash. For example, the officer writing the report might include their opinion on how the crash happened and whom they believe is responsible.
Expert Witnesses Using Information from Police Reports in NJ Motorcycle Accident Cases
Expert witnesses come up in many accident cases, particularly accident reconstruction experts. These experts may take details and measurements from the accident scene to recreate it. They then analyze how the accident happened to draw conclusions about who is to blame. In New Jersey, expert witnesses can use police reports to draw conclusions. The expert’s final report on the crash may still be admissible even though it is partially based on inadmissible information from a police report.
Expert testimony and reports must be based on facts and evidence the expert has observed or is aware of. An accident reconstruction expert may form their opinion based on details about your motorcycle accident from a police report. However, expert opinions are usually not based on the opinions or conclusions drawn by the officers who compiled the police report. Our Middletown motorcycle accident lawyers can help you contact potential experts who know how to reconstruct accidents and determine who is likely at fault.
Call Our NJ Motorcycle Accident Lawyer for a Free Case Evaluation
If you were in a motorcycle accident and the police came to the scene, you can use parts of the resulting police report as evidence in your case. Our New Brunswick motorcycle accident lawyers can review the report to determine what is or is not admissible. For a free case review, call Jerry Friedman at 1-800-529-4464.