I am in the beginning stages of writing my first book, and it is a true crime novel about something that happened down the street from my own home. My question is to anyone else who has written a non fiction or true crime story: What are my best options for research in regards to finding court documents, autopsy reports, etc.? I am feeling a little overwhelmed and would love some insight to help steer me in a more clear direction. Any input will be highly valued.
Start with your precinct/village police department. Police reports are open to the public (with some exceptions). There is usually a small fee to print or download.
Beyond that, you're going to have some issues with confidentiality depending on the case. You might try contacting the reporting officer, but the detective assigned to the case probably won't talk to you.
Most court transcripts will be available once the case has been completed (with many exceptions), but it will only contain what was said "to the court." Records cost money; it depends on what you want.
Witnesses will probably talk to you, lawyers won't.
Having tried this once, you're best bet to get a story is to talk to the victims (or immediate family in the event of a murder). You should be very sensitive to this. I would suggest a handwritten letter introducing yourself mailed by USPS with your contact information. Victims may have fears and paranoias. Do not proceed without the consent of the victim(s) in a nonfiction book. If they agree with your proposal, they may give you access to confidential medical info. Best case scenario, they set up a meeting with the detective and you. You don't have a book without talking to the detective.