Fact vs. Opinion: You’ve probably heard that phrase before. How important is an understanding of fact vs. opinion when you’re writing a criminal justice report? Very.
Criminal justice requires objectivity. Opinions, deductions, hunches, and guesses don’t belong in a report, for three reasons:
- They make your report look unprofessional.
- They can cast doubt on your credibility.
- They probably won’t stand up in court.
Difficulties can set in right from the beginning of your report. If you can’t establish probable cause, a judge may dismiss a case before you even get a chance to testify about what happened at the crime scene.
You may also run into difficulty if your actions seem based on stereotyping or bias: You made assumptions based on the person’s age (“She’s elderly, so I knew she’d be confused”), ethnicity (“He was lying to protect his friend, who was also Hispanic”) or religion (“I knew she was taking good care of her mother because Mormons have strong family values”).
These two rules are useful guides to separating fact from opinion in your reports:
1. Don’t document your thoughts or thinking processes. Stick to what your five senses tell you.
2. Be descriptive. Turn opinions (“He seemed scared”) into word pictures (“His hands were shaking, and his lips were trembling. He looked over his shoulder five times while I was questioning him”).
You can watch a short (and free) video about objectivity by clicking here.