A criminal defense investigator plays an important role on your criminal defense team. He or she will assist your criminal defense attorney in preparation for trial, including gathering records and interviewing witnesses. Having a diligent, experienced criminal defense investigator is crucial!
1. Hit the Ground Running
When an “incident” happens and police are called, they immediately start investigating. Law enforcement will interview witnesses with fresh memories, collect evidence, take photographs at the scene, and gather information. By immediately retaining a private criminal defense attorney with a good investigator, you can ensure that YOUR team will also hit the ground running. This means taking defense-friendly photographs at the scene, interviewing those same witnesses to get statements that may be more defense friendly, interviewing other witnesses unknown to law enforcement (or intentionally avoided because they do not help the State’s case), or other investigation such as requesting copies of video surveillance, audio recordings, or other electronic evidence. Hiring a private attorney who has a smaller caseload will ensure that your advocate and investigator will hit the ground running.
2. Another Perspective on Your Case
An experienced criminal defense attorney will already know what to be looking for as she reviews your case. She will be searching for potential search issues, warrant errors, violations of your constitutional rights, problems with the police investigation, or other evidentiary issues. Another set of eyes and another perspective is another reason why having a defense investigator is crucial. A great investigator can assist with case theories, possible defenses, or offer different ideas for moving forward with the investigation.
3. Digging Up Dirt
Criminal defense investigators are often tasked with digging up dirt on the State’s witnesses. This can be by filing Public Disclosure Requests with police agencies, issuing Subpoena Duces Tecum on people or businesses who may have relevant information, or conducting witness interviews to discover impeachment evidence, biases, or prior acts of State witnesses that may be admissible at trial to help with your defense. This is especially true for self-defense cases where any prior violent act by the “alleged victim” would be admissible at trial. It is important to diligently search for any information that could be helpful in your defense.
4. Running the Witness Interview
Criminal defense investigators typically prepare for and conduct all witness interviews. Sometimes criminal defense attorneys attend those (I always do!). Interviewing state witnesses before trial allows defense investigators and attorneys the opportunity to ask hard questions and elicit important details that may have been ignored by the prosecutor or police. It allows us to gather more information about what the witness will be testifying to, and also push into the weak areas of the prosecutor’s case. Witness interviews are an important part of any criminal defense.
5. A Defense Witness at Trial
At trial, it can be intimidating to see the State line up its 15-20 witnesses, including several law enforcement officers. If any police officer had any role in your case, however limited, the prosecutor will put that person up on the stand to testify about what he or she did. It can be extremely daunting to see uniformed officer and uniformed officer coming in the courtroom to testify against you. And most times, there are NO defense witnesses or VERY FEW. That’s just how the system works. However, a great criminal defense investigator can be a wonderful defense witness at trial. We can put that investigator on the stand just like the State puts the lead detective on the stand. Just like the lead detective will explain everything he or she did to investigate why you are GUILTY of a crime, our defense investigator can discuss his investigation and why you are clearly NOT GUILTY of the crime. It can be a powerful way to rebut the State’s long stream of officer witnesses.