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Disclosure of “Draft” Police Reports in Zimmerman Case is Unusual and Extraordinary

Posted by on in Florida Criminal Law
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I've been practicing criminal law in Florida for more than 25 years and have represented hundreds of individuals in criminal cases over the years.  In almost every case I've demanded discovery of all written statements and reports of law enforcement officers, but never - never - has a “draft” report ever been disclosed in discovery.  Now I’m wondering how many “draft” reports have been hidden from defendants in criminal cases in Florida over the years.  Surely, there have been other cases where police officers create a “draft” report and then made changes.

The Orlando Sentinel reported on January 9, 2013 that “the day Sanford police turned over the Trayvon Martin shooting investigation to prosecutors, they changed their final report at least four times over five hours.”  The Orlando Sentinel initially reported the existence of changes on December 12, 2012 when Special Prosecutor Angela Corey made public a list of evidence that she had just released to Zimmerman’s defense attorney Mark O'Mara. The list included only a few sentences but made clear there was an initial draft plus four revisions.  O'Mara on Tuesday released each version.  Corey's office is expected to release them in the next few days.  These drafts reveal that an investigating officer and his supervisors made several major changes to at least one report.  Read the Orlando Sentinel article here.

The rules of discovery in criminal cases in Florida require the prosecutor to disclose all written statements of witnesses, which of course includes all police reports.  Clearly each “draft” of a police report is a written witness statement and should be disclosed.  In my view, the prosecutor is just following the rules of discovery when multiple “drafts” of police reports are disclosed in the Zimmerman case.  

The unusual aspect of the disclosure of “draft” reports in the Zimmerman case is that “draft” reports are not routinely disclosed in other criminal case in Florida.  Why haven’t “draft” reports ever been disclosed in other criminal cases in Florida?   What happens to “draft” reports in other cases?  Is there a mechanism for preserving “draft” reports in other cases?  Are “draft” reports routinely being destroyed in other criminal cases in Florida?

In fact, “draft” reports just aren’t disclosed in the ordinary criminal prosecution in Florida.  I suspect that “draft” reports are routinely deleted or destroyed in most criminal cases in the state of Florida.  There is no clear rule or mechanism that requires law enforcement to preserve all “draft” reports so that prosecutors and defense lawyers can be made aware of what changes were made in reports and when those changes were made.  In some cases the changes in reports may help the prosecutor.  In other cases the changes in reports may help the defendant.  In the usual and ordinary criminal case in Florida, it is standard operating procedure for law enforcement agencies to make changes in reports and never disclose to the prosecutor or defense lawyer the “draft” reports.  Where are the “draft” reports in every other criminal prosecution in the state of Florida?


Michael Buchanan is a practicing criminal defense attorney in Gainesville, Florida, with more than 25 years experience defending people accused of criminal misconduct. He is a former president of the Eighth Judicial Circuit chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He is a member of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Read detailed professional biography here.