Reports to Crown Counsel

A Prosecutor’s Perspective

Henry Waldock
Last updated: 2015.03.13

The opinions expressed in this paper are mine alone, and are not necessarily the policy of the Attorney General of British Columbia.

What is a Report to Crown Counsel?

A Report to Crown Counsel provides the fruits of an investigation to Crown Counsel.  It explains the evidence and the investigation, so that we can determine what charges to lay, and which witnesses to call for trial. It should answer three questions:

  1. What did the suspect do?
  2. What evidence shows that the suspect did it?
  3. How did you crack the case?

Some police officers sometimes think we want to know only the information that makes the accused look guilty.  This is not true.  If you find evidence which suggests that the accused isn't guilty, we like to find out in advance, not part way through the trial.

If we approve a charge, we will provide a copy of the report to defence counsel.  Therefore, write it as if you were explaining to the accused's mother why he is guilty.  Even if he punched you in the nose and threatened you, avoid emotional terms to describe his actions.  His mother will take any hint of emotion as proof that you are biased against her innocent and misunderstood son.

When is a Report Complete?

A report to Crown is complete when it accounts for the investigation.  An investigation is complete when all reasonably available sources of information have been canvassed.

If there were 5 people in the house when the murder occurred, the investigation is not complete until you have attempted to interview all of the survivors.  Even if it was only a guy harassing a woman in a bar, the same principle applies.

If you investigate a drunken domestic and find 3 drunk friends present, you should ask each one what they saw.  Most of them will say "F*** off pig, I don't talk to cops", or some eloquent variation on that theme.  Your investigation is complete when you have pursued all reasonably available leads.  Your report is complete when you have documented your efforts, and the foul language with which these people abused you.

In the trial of the drunken domestic dispute, the defence will call those 3 drunk friends who refused to speak to you.  Each will claim that the victim assaulted the accused.  Then the prosecutor will be very grateful to know the foul language with which those buddies refused to speak to you.  It makes for excellent cross-examination material.

Similarly, in an impaired investigation, many officers fail to question the passengers.  Committing them early to a version of who was driving and how much the suspect drank greatly simplifies the later trial.

Take statements.  Attach them to your report.  Don't expect that a witness will remember the details of the incident just because you wrote in your notebook.  Trials take inordinate time.  Many witnesses have reasons to "forget".  Get their words down on paper, or tape recorded right away.

It's worth writing a complete report because it persuades guilty people to plead.  Some offenders promise police officers that they will plead guilty.  Relying on the promise, the officer writes an incomplete report.  Then the offender's lawyer reads the report and identifies shortcomings.  Naturally, the lawyer's analysis persuades the offender to fight the charge.

FORMAT of the RTCC

Your report to Crown will be read by many people:

When they start reading your report, all of them want to know the answer to the first question: “What did the bad guy do?”  Although the details of your fine police work will be important to some, such as the Crown who runs the trial, most of them don’t care about you. They want to know about the crook.

Therefore, start with a summary of the offence.

THE SUMMARY

All reports to Crown Counsel should start with a brief assertion of what you believe the suspect did.  This summary should not take more than two or three sentences, even for complex crimes.  For example:

Lester FEELGOOD fondled the genitals of three young boys (10, 8, 7) that he babysat over a 3 month period.

Ivan POUNDER argued with his wife about her infidelity.  He punched her in the face, threw her down and choked her.   When police attended the residence she was reluctant to speak.  Both were drinking.

Police chased a recently stolen truck that was driven at speeds up to 110km/h in a 50km/h zone.  The truck crashed, and a trail of blood spots led police to Richard RICOCHET, hiding in bushes nearby.  The truck contained stolen property.

THE NARRATIVE

Starting at the beginning

At the R.C.M.P. training, they teach officers to write narratives chronologically, starting from the first police contact.  These narratives read like witness statements:

"On 200X-YY-DD at 23:11hrs, Cst Smith was dispatched to attend a disturbance. …"

I dislike this style.

In most cases, all the interesting events occurred before police arrived.  I prefer narratives to relate chronologically all the events which occurred before, during and after police attendance.

A chronological description of the offence is often better than a chronological description of the investigation.  For example a stolen car case might be narrated this way:

At 7:00pm, 2001-10-12, Phyllis BANKS left her house at 3303 Emerald Drive for the evening.  She left her black 1998 B.M.W. parked in the open garage.

According to her neighbor, Percy PRENDERGAST, around 10:30pm, 3 or 4 youths walked down Emerald drive, ringing doorbells.  When he spoke to them, they claimed to be collecting money for the Thunderheads Hockey team.  He recalled that one of them wore a Montreal Canadian's jersey with a rip in the shoulder.

At 11:00pm, Cst Goodeyes observed three youths in a black BMW on Lickman Road, in Chilliwack, heading toward Highway 1.  The driver appeared to be wearing a hockey jersey, and Cst Goodeyes believes it was the accused, Larry LARCENY, whom he knew from prior dealings.

At 12:10am 2001-10-13, Cst Tardy of the Abbotsford Police Department observed 3 youths walking south on Sumas Way.  Larry LARCENY was one of them.  He was wearing a Montreal Canadians jersey, with a rip in the right shoulder.  100 feet north of them was Ms Banks' black BMW.  Cst Tardy examined the vehicle and found that the ignition was punched.  When he attempted to speak with the youths, they fled.  However, after a brief chase, LARCENY stopped, turned toward him and said "I give up."    Cst Tardy arrested him for possession of stolen property, advised him of his rights, and lodged him in cells.

In this example, Cst Goodeyes and Cst Tardy may also write descriptions of what they saw and did.  For my purposes, what those officers write are witness statements - explanations of their own personal observations.  But neither officer saw the whole event, and therefore neither witness statement suffices to explain how the case fits together.

There are exceptions.  When one officer sees the offence and investigates it such as a routine impaired driving case, the officer's chronological witness statement narrates the whole offence.  We don't need any more documentation.

Summarizing and quoting

Where more than one witness (or police officer) saw or investigated the offence, summarize the key parts. Don't recite them.  But by all means, quote the essential parts, like the words of the threat to kill.  For example a report of a spousal assault might say:

According to Ophelia POUNDER, the purpose of going drinking that night was to celebrate their anniversary, but Ivan spent the time asking her about her supervisor at work Hamish LETT.  They drank at GoodTimes bar, returning home around 1:00am.  In the kitchen, he accused her of "fooling around with Ham".  When she denied it, he punched her in the face, calling her a "dirty whore".  He threw her backwards into the counter, and she fell to the ground.  He squeezed her throat with his hands, so that she could not breathe.  He kept asking her "why do you make me do this?"  Eventually, he stopped, and went to bed.  She called 911.

Cst Smith and Cpl Wesson attended their residence at 1:55am.  Ms Pounder let them in.  She was under the influence of alcohol.  Cst Smith observed and photographed some redness about Ms Pounder's left cheek and on both sides of her neck.  Ms Pounder complained of a sore back.  When asked to provide a statement, Ms Pounder said "No way.  I just want him out of my house."

Ivan Pounder was located passed out in the bedroom wearing disheveled clothes.  He bore no visible injuries, but was heavily intoxicated.  Cpl Wesson arrested, Chartered and warned him.  He refused to speak with counsel, and when Cpl Wesson asked him "Do you want to tell me what happened this evening?" he responded "Nothing happened this evening.  I ain't talking.  I don't know why I married her.  She's a bitch."  He refused to say any more.

Mr Pounder's 2005 conviction for assault arises from a previous incident between them.  In addition, officers have been called to that residence to resolve disputes between the Pounders on the following dates:

Date File Details
2005-02-11 2005-3424 Neighbors complain of loud dispute.  Both deny any problems.
2004-12-24 2004-76365 Intoxicated couple fighting on the street - both placed in drunk tank
2003-07-15 2003-13332 Man makes suicide threats.

Headings

If your narrative exceeds a page, or even a screen in your word processor, you probably need to insert descriptive headings.  These help you to organize your thoughts, and help the reader to find information in a hurry.  For example, headings in a robbery case might include:

Addendums

When reporting additional information:

Unfortunately, some officers in B.C. take liberties with their word-processors  They send us the entire RTCC with a few modifications.  It drives us crazy.  We now have to read both RTCCs to figure out what is new.  If there is a correction to be made, a corrigendum is fine.  For example:

Corrigendum - Arrest of Clyde

The original RTCC reports that Cst Magnum fired two shots into the tires of the vehicle Clyde was driving, causing the vehicle to stop.  This is inaccurate.  Cst Jones found that Clyde's tires were intact.  However, damage was found to Cpl Shield's passenger side door.  The two shots Cst Magnum fired appear to have ricocheted under Clyde's vehicle, and hit the door of Cpl Shield's vehicle as Cpl Shield cut Clyde's vehicle off.

Exhibits

Please report who discovered and handled each exhibit.  No exhibit is admissible unless a witness can tell the court where it came from.  (Okay, there are exceptions.)  Hearsay evidence isn't good enough.  Even if the only thing Cst Jones did was receive the counterfeit bills from the shopkeeper, then Cst Jones should be on the witness list.

Writing Style

Active Voice

Explain who did what in simple sentences.  Identify the actor.  Avoid the verb "to be".  For example:

Passive voice Problem Active Voice
A dispatch was received at 0905hrs to attend at 123 Main Street. Who received this dispatch? At 0905hrs Cst Jones received a dispatch to attend at 123 Main Street.
On arrival, a male and female were seen to be arguing. Who saw the arguing? On arrival there, he saw a male and female arguing.
The male was believed to be intoxicated by alcohol. Who believed the male was drunk?  The officer?  The woman?  Why? Cst Jones believed that the male was drunk because he staggered, slurred his words, and smelled strongly of liquor.
It was determined that the male had assaulted the woman. Who "determined" this? The woman told Cst Wong "he hit me in the face" and "he choked me too"
How did the officer "determine" the truth?  Is "determine" the right word?  Maybe the woman's a liar. Cst Wong saw swelling on the woman's cheek, and red marks on her neck.  The complaint persuaded Cst Wong that the man assaulted the woman.
The man was arrested, Chartered and warned, and transported to the police station. Who did these things?  For the purposes of proving admissibility of the man's admission, the prosecutor needs to know the name of each officer involved in these actions. Cst Jones arrested the man, and explained the police warning and Charter rights.  Cst Wong transported him to the police station.
The man was interviewed, and admissions were made that the woman was held against her will. Who interviewed the man?  What did the man really say? Cst Jones interviewed the man.  The man admitted "I mighta held her down a bit, but she deserved it.  She was outta hand."

A sentence written in the active voice describes what someone did.  The passive voice explains what action someone or something received, usually relying on the verb "to be".  The passive voice hides information.  In the example above, the prosecutor would not know

First Person or Third Person

The first person ("I") works in a document which explains only one officer's actions.  For example, an officer who pulls over a drunk driver may do the entire investigation herself.  Writing her report in the first person makes sense.  But an officers who work in a team of investigators will confuse everyone by writing in the first person.  When reviewing their collected reports, the reader must constantly check the signature line to find out who "I" is on each page.

Pick a standard and stick with it.  I prefer the third person in formal reports, as set out above in the "Active Voice" table, but I like the first person in police officer's witness statements.

Assault / Obstruct Peace Officer

Would you ask the victim of an assault to do the investigation?  Of course not.  He is a biased party.  Yet routinely, police officers are expected to investigate and report assaults upon themselves.

Defence lawyers love this.  It's easy to make this kind of investigation look like a police conspiracy.  Usually officers need to use force to control someone who assaults them.  That sort of customer often accuses the police of brutality.  At the trial, the defence lawyer suggests that the officers involved need to cover up their brutality.  And what better way than to have one officer write a report that the others review before testifying.

When someone assaults or resists a police officer, all police officers present should immediately write independent witness statements.  An uninvolved officer should collect them and write the narrative.

Don't take short cuts.  Assaulting a police officer is serious.  It does not matter that the witnesses might be police officers.  Get independent witness statements from all the witnesses.  (See the remarks above about complete investigations.)

Background of Relationship Crimes

When victims know the offender, you must document the relationship between them.  When did they meet?  What was the course of their relationship?  Who else was involved?  A stalking or a spousal murder makes no sense without this background.  If the relationship led to previous charges, please note the police and court file numbers (where available).

If the offences span several jurisdictions, the prosecutor needs this to coordinate or consolidate prosecutions.

Property Crimes

Take statements from the victims of thefts and B&Es.  Even if their evidence is simple, get the statement.  The RCC is incomplete without it.

Two years later at trial, they won't recall the date of the theft.  They won't recall their old licence plate or their VIN.  They won't remember who locked the door, or who last saw the car, or how much money was in the purse.  Or what their old VISA card number was.

Police Officers' Notes

Unless your notes are so sketchy as to record absolutely nothing different from the RCC, you should include copies of your notes in the RCC.  This saves us the trouble of asking you for them, and guarantees that a spare set of your notes will be available for review at the trial, even if your notebook goes missing.

Bail and Sentencing Information

Some officers include a portion at the end of the RTCC which describes the offender's personal circumstances, and how much trouble he caused in the community recently.  Prosecutors find this very useful.

Some offences are a particular scourge to the community causing a rash of mail theft or graffiti in a specific area.  If the offence you are reporting is part of a larger problem, add a portion at the end of the RTCC.  Include statistics if you can.  With that kind of information, we can change the standard sentence judges impose for this kind of crime.

Personal Opinions

Think twice before expressing personal opinions about the credibility of witnesses or the evil nature of the offender.  Think three times. There are times it is appropriate, but they are rare.

If a witness is not credible, prosecutors prefer to know your reasons.  Don't merely assert that you don't believe Suzie, but tell us why.  If an offender is a horrible fellow, write the reasons why you come to that conclusion.  If possible, leave your opinion out.  If you think that charges should not be laid, again, please express the reasons why you come to that conclusion.

Hard Decisions and Insistent Complainants

Sometimes complainants demand charges, in spite of the absence of any evidence of any offence.

In B.C., is our job to decide whether to lay charges.  In order to satisfy the unreasonable demands of an incensed complainant, feel free to send us reports even when you do not think charges should be laid.  It is our job to deal with those angry members of the public who don't understand the law.  Let us take the heat for those unpopular decisions.