Legal Memorandum: Testifying Police Officers at Civil Trials

Issue: Under Arizona law, may criminal investigation officers testify at a civil trial regarding their conclusions as to the origination of a fight between two individuals?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Police officers testifying at civil trials; Relevant evidence; Police records
Jurisdiction: Arizona, Federal, Nevada
Cited Cases: 107 Ariz. 458; 540 P.2d 166; 179 Cal. Rptr. 379; 698 P.2d 875; 101 Nev. 219
Cited Statutes: Nev. Rev. Stat. § 48.015
Date: 05/01/2000

           There is no general prohibition against police officers testifying at civil trials.  However, police officers are subject to the general rules regarding qualification of witnesses and to the evidentiary rules applicable to all witnesses.  Thus, their testimony must be relevant, not unduly prejudicial, and not based on hearsay.  See Nev. Rev. Stat. § 48.015. 

Police records containing the opinions and conclusions of the officers generally are not admissible.  See, e.g., Steed v. Cuevas, 24 Ariz. App. 547, 540 P.2d 166 (1975).  However, when a police officer is a witness at a civil trial and is available for cross examination, he or she may be able to testify to present sense impressions upon arriving at the crime scene, as well as statements made by the perpetrators.  Cases that allow admission of the personal observations or perceptions of a police officer include:

·         Rodriquez v. Williams, 107 Ariz. 458, 489 P.2d 268 (1971) (objective data noted by police officer at accident scene is admissible).

·         Fisk v. DMV, (1981 2d Dist.) 127 Cal. App. 3d 72, 179 Cal. Rptr. 379 (arresting officer’s statements as to his observations of motorist’s erratic driving and intoxicated condition held admissible).

In contrast to these cases, Frias v. Valle, 101 Nev. 219, 698 P.2d 875 (1985), suggests that under Nevada law a police officer may not qualify as a witness unless he or she was […]

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