The job of law enforcement and the prosecution team is to recognize when a crime has been committed and to use the available evidence to identify and charge whoever committed the crime in question. Most people assume the cops find all the evidence of a crime and properly interpret the evidence to locate a suspect. But what happens if law enforcement misses something and arrests the wrong person? Who is available to offer a different perspective of the available evidence? What about locating evidence that was missed, ignored, or outright suppressed? If your defense attorney only relies on the evidence provided by the prosecution, you could be leaving a lot to be discovered that could prove your innocence. A criminal defense investigator is one of the most valuable components of a proper defense team.
Table of Contents
What Does A Criminal Defense Investigator Do?
Just like the prosecution has law enforcement investigators and detectives working to reach a criminal conviction, a criminal defense investigator works for the defense team to help build a solid legal defense. Of course, the ultimate goal is to get a “not guilty” verdict, but really a criminal defense investigator is working to uncover the truth.
Most people assume that law enforcement is also in search of the truth. In reality many times law enforcement is simply in search of facts that will prove their theory of the crime. Bias, ego, and outright misconduct can lead to an innocent person being made to look guilty by tailoring the facts to support the criminal charges. A criminal defense investigator can cut through the bias and find the evidence needed to show other theories of what occurred or who is the actual guilty party.
Role of the Criminal Defense Investigator
In nearly every state in the US, private investigators must be licensed to conduct investigations. Licensing ensures a degree of professionalism and training and also allows certain legal protections for the investigator. An unlicensed person conducting private investigations can be faced with severe criminal charges and civil penalties.
Private investigators can work for defense attorneys and gather evidence to assist with legal defense of persons charged with a crime. Under these circumstances, a PI usually works directly for the defense attorney, protecting all of their work product by attorney-client privilege. In rare cases, a PI might work for a defendant or a defendant’s family when other legal defense options have been exhausted.
Criminal defense investigators interview witnesses, review crime scenes and police reports, examine evidence, and generally look for anything that law enforcement may have ignored or overlooked during the course of their investigation. A criminal defense investigator can also become a witness for the defense and give courtroom testimony of what actions they took during their investigation. When the prosecutor has a list of law enforcement personnel to take the stand, it can often play well for the jury when the defense also has their own investigators to provide courtroom testimony.
Defendant and Witness Interviews
A criminal defendant will likely be be mistrusting of an investigator in the beginning. Especially considering every other interaction he or she may have had with an investigator would have been involving some sort of law enforcement entity. An experienced criminal defense investigator will recognize the importance easing the defendant’s anxieties and establishing rapport from the very beginning of the interview process. A defendant will usually open up and be completely honest about the facts of the case when the defendant understands that any conversation with the investigator will be confidential and protected by attorney-client privilege.
Similarly, witness interviews can provide a wealth of valuable information for the defense case. By approaching witnesses in a friendly and professional manner, a private investigator can often uncover new information about the case such as other witnesses that were not identified by law enforcement, circumstances at a crime scene that the were not discovered during the initial investigation, or quite possibly a witness may give a different account of what was seen compared to what law enforcement documented in the police report.
A defense investigator will also conduct background checks to find anything that may discredit or otherwise contradict the testimony of the witnesses and alleged victim. Useful items from a background investigation may include criminal history, employment and education records, character and reputation in the community, or known associates and family members that could call into question a witness’s trustworthiness. Any negative information that could potentially show a witness to be unreliable or a victim to be less than honest could be valuable information for the defense during a criminal trial.
After conducting interviews, everything a criminal defense investigator has learned must be documented in a professional report and communicated to the defense attorney. Important elements of the completed report will include:
- Narrative of the witness and defendant interviews
- Audio and transcripts of the witness and defendant interviews
- Photographs, videos, and sketches of the crime scene
- Surveillance video and photographs
- Background reports for witnesses and alleged victims
- Narrative regarding review police reports and evidence
- Documentation of any newly discovered physical evidence, including complete chain of custody
- Narrative and timeline of all actions taken by the criminal defense investigator
Private investigators must be resourceful and creative to get the information they need to satisfy their clients. Criminal defense investigators must be particularly diligent in their work because a so much is at stake during a criminal trial. If mistakes are made, an innocent person could be headed for a long prison sentence and a guilty person could be free to cause more harm to the public. Equally important, victims of crime deserve justice, and the defense team is part of identifying the truth, even if that means their client is actually guilty of the allegations. An unbiased, professional investigator whose goal is to serve the truth will always be the best person to hire for an effective criminal defense.
H7 Investigative Services conducts private investigations in Santa Clarita, Antelope Valley, and throughout the greater Los Angeles area.
If you want to find out how our agency can help with your case, click through to our consultation request page or call us at (661)454-7513.