When you are trying to get ahold of a police report after a car accident, an assault, a neighbor dispute or for any other reason, you may find that the process is very confusing. Police departments do not always produce their reports upon request, and some will tell you that you have to file a subpoena.
Unfortunately, under Pennsylvania law, to subpoena a document you must have an active case that you are a part of. This means either that you are the criminal/defendant in the case or you are a party to a civil action where you are suing or being sued. Accordingly, if you are trying to serve a subpoena on a police department, you must be a party to one of those actions. Additionally, government entities have the power to serve subpoenas in certain types of investigations, but private parties do not have similar power.
If you are not a party to one of these actions, you can consider whether you should file one in order to subpoena the documents that you need. This might mean suing the neighbor or the individual that you are in a dispute with, or in extreme cases, suing the police department if you think that you have grounds to do so. In most cases and for most people, rather than subpoenaing a police report, you should consider one of two other options.
FILING A RIGHT TO KNOW REQUEST
A Right To Know is a request under Pennsylvania law to a government entity to produce records that are in their possession. This is the state law equivalent to a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA). Some states call these Open Records laws. Simply put, the Right To Know request allows you to request documents that the police may be holding onto, including police reports.
However, police departments routinely refuse to produce police reports claiming that they are part of “an active criminal investigation.” This is sometimes true, even after they have said there will be no charges from an incident. Although this is not technically correct, it often practically results in a brick wall in trying to obtain these police reports.
PAY FOR A POLICE REPORT
If you have been a part of a car accident, you may have the right to obtain the police report by paying the police department for it. In addition, there are a number of websites that offer this service. At Cornerstone Law Firm, we routinely retrieve these as part of personal injury cases for clients. The difference and the reason that you can obtain it here is because investigating a personal injury is one exception that most police departments will properly recognize as a reason to obtain a police report.
If you are trying to obtain a police report as part of an investigation or as part of a personal injury case, call the experienced attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to talk about how best to go about obtaining the police report and also to discuss whether there are any other ways to get the information that you are after. Our attorneys can help determine the best course of action and figure out your next steps.