To what extent is a police officer’s racial comment admissible in a criminal trial? It depends on the circumstances and type of case. However, in any trial, evidence that tends to prove that a witness is biased against one side or the other should be admissible at the trial. If a police officer makes a comment during the arrest that indicates he/she may be biased against the defendant based on his/her race, that comment should be included in the evidence that is evaluated by the jury. The same is true if the comment was made by a lay witness.
In a recent domestic battery case that occurred south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was African-American and the victim was white. The police officer who arrested the defendant for domestic battery made an apparently racist comment explaining why he had to arrest the defendant. The court ultimately ruled that the criminal defense lawyer could bring the comment to the jury’s attention because prejudicial comments are relevant to attack the credibility, and show the possible bias, of the police officer.
Domestic battery cases are often based solely on the testimony of the victim. In many domestic violence cases, the only two people present for the incident are the defendant and the alleged victim so there are no independent witnesses to confirm either side’s story. As a result, the police officer who responds to the domestic battery call has to decide which party is telling the truth. Even if there is some evidence of an injury on the alleged victim, that does not prove that a domestic battery was committed if the alleged victim started the altercation and the other party was defending him/herself. Because the police officer uses more discretion than normal in most domestic battery arrests, any bias the police officer may have against the defendant should be admissible in the trial.