Court of Criminal Appeals: Cops can testify based on notes alone

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals recently ruled against a DUI defendant in a case where the arresting officer apparently had no real memory of the events leading up to the arrest. Instead, the officer relied on the police report and dashcam video.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees criminal defendants the right to fully confront the evidence and witnesses against them. In this case, the defense argued that the defendant’s right to confront the statements of the police officer was essentially denied. There were moments of the traffic stop that were missing from the dashcam video and not covered in the police report, the defense argued. Therefore, the police officer’s memory of the events was crucial evidence that could not be challenged.

The traffic stop occurred in January 2016, after the defendant allegedly ran a stop sign. When a state trooper interviewed the defendant, he concluded the man appeared to be tipsy. Ultimately, he was arrested and charged with DUI and was later convicted.

On appeal, the defense tried to show that the initial traffic stop was unlawful because the trooper had no “reasonable suspicion or probable cause, supported by specific and articulable facts, to believe that Defendant had committed, was committing or was about to commit a crime when the stop was made.” In order to pull drivers over, police must generally have reasonable suspicion that a crimeis in progress or about to be committed or that a traffic offense has been committed

The running of the stop sign was not fully captured on the dashcam video, and the trooper admitted that he had no independent memory of the events. Instead, he refreshed his memory by reviewing his police report and watching the dashcam video. Doing so prompted him to remember that he had originally pulled the defendant over for running the stop sign.

Unfortunately, the police report itself was not entered into evidence and the trooper was never questioned at trial about what was or was not in that report. If the reason for the traffic stop was not mentioned in the police report, the defense might have had a much stronger argument.

Appeals courts are required to accept the trial court’s findings of fact unless there is clear evidence showing those findings are objectively unreasonable. Since the trial court found the trooper to be credible, to overturn that view the appeals court would have to find clear evidence that finding him credible was unreasonable. It did not, so it deferred to the trial court’s view.

The appeals court upheld the DUI conviction.

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