By Tina M. Skirvin, CCDI
The criminal defense investigator plays an invaluable role within the criminal justice system. While diligently assisting defense counsel in uncovering reasonable doubt on behalf of the accused, the criminal defense investigator’s main objective must be to seek and uncover the truth. In order to serve the criminal justice system most effectively, an investigator must remember to remain unbiased during the course of an investigation and to maintain an ample distance from the emotional aspect. Becoming too emotionally attached or opinionated can alter the appropriate avenues which the investigator should follow.
The Component Method provided in Brandon A. Perron’s book titled “Uncovering Reasonable Doubt” outlines a practical and effective process for accomplishing a thorough criminal defense investigation. An in-depth review of the discovery file, police reports, witness statements, crime scene examination and lab results is crucial at the beginning of an investigation. This will provide the investigator with an understanding of the allegations and representation of the facts associated with the case. Most importantly, it will allow the investigator to examine the prosecutor’s evidence that has been discovered thus far, prepare timelines of important events and formulate a strategy of defense.
The defendant should understand in the beginning that the information shared with the investigator is confidential, protected by the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine. The initial defendant interview should be professional, productive and comfortable. A positive relationship between the defendant and investigator is essential for a successful investigation. It is important that the defendant understand it is in his/her best interest to develop an open and trusting relationship with the investigator. A trusting relationship will encourage the defendant to share all facts, good and bad, with the investigator that may not be known by the prosecution. This will allow the defense to address such facts accordingly. Of course, all information learned by the investigator must be reported to defense counsel.
A crime scene investigation that includes photographs, videos and diagrams is helpful in understanding how the crime was committed and to see if the scene corresponds with the evidence provided by the prosecution and witness statements. Although the criminal defense investigator normally doesn’t have the opportunity to visit the scene until well after the crime was committed, it is still important to understand the physical layout and dimensions of the scene.
A background investigation of the alleged victim and potential witnesses can, at times, prove to be extremely valuable during a criminal defense investigation. For example, when investigating a sexual assault case, a background investigation could reveal information such as the alleged victim falsely accusing other individuals in the past or perhaps behaving in a way that a true victim would not behave after enduring an incident such as rape. Similarly, a background investigation of potential witnesses can reveal negative information which can be used to impeach the testimony of a particular witness. Background investigations include research of arrest and conviction records, character, reputation, employment, education, social media and behavior-type information from family, friends and colleagues. Witness interviews may be the most important part of a criminal defense investigation, especially in the pursuit of uncovering reasonable doubt. An investigator should approach a witness in a friendly and respectable manner. Far better results will be achieved if the witness is made to feel comfortable and even helpful. The witness should never be made to feel as if they’re being interrogated. A witness is more likely to open up and volunteer information if they feel as if the investigator is, to a certain extent, on their level. This may require the investigator to conduct the interview in less than desirable surroundings.
A criminal defense investigator must not only have specialized skills in the field but must also possess the ability to draft professional and accurate reports. Investigation reports assist defense counsel with understanding what happened leading up to the alleged crime(s), what happened during the incident(s) and what followed, all of which are critical for formulating a sound defense strategy. A clear and complete report that includes a narrative for each witness can be of great assistance to defense counsel, and to the investigator when rcalling specific evidence if he or she has to testify in court. The defense investigator must maintain an objective and unbiased demeanor and a professional appearance while testifying in court. Once again, the emotional impact of the investigation must not adversely impact the value of the defense investigator’s testimony.
The criminal defense investigator profession is unique in that it requires an open-minded, creative and resourceful personality to be successful in the field. It’s difficult for many people to remember that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, and that it is of utmost importance to remain objective and unbiased as evidence is discovered through the duration of an investigation. The investigator’s objective is to uncover evidence that supports the defense of the accused, including examining the prosecution’s case and exposing weaknesses when found.
Within the Acknowledgements section of “Uncovering Reasonable Doubt,” Brandon A. Perron mentioned that early in his career he was fortunate to encounter very dedicated and skilled investigators and he provides some insight to those individuals. I too feel as if I’ve been privileged to have been given the opportunity to learn by my employer and mentor, Don C. Johnson, CLI. I look forward to continuing on this path.
For quality criminal defense investigations call Trace Investigations at 800-310-8857.
Tina is south central Indiana’s only Certified Criminal Defense Investigator, one of four in Indiana. A former paralegal and criminal court reporter, she has been with Trace Investigations since 2008. Tina is chief field investigator on all civil and criminal investigations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.