If you’re arrested or charged with a serious state or federal crime, the first step is to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. The next step is to confirm that your attorney is working with an experienced criminal investigator. Just as there’s a wide range of experience and skill among criminal defense lawyers, the same holds true for the investigators they may bring on board to help with your case. It’s not something you tend to think of in the midst of the stress of being accused of a crime, but a great criminal defense investigator can have almost as much impact on your case as your lawyer.
So What Makes a Great Investigator?
Excellent Judgement: Investigators interview a wide range of people as they gather information to help mount your defense including you, your witnesses and possibly your accuser and his or her witnesses. An experienced investigator asks clear questions and gets as much detail as possible. They recognize discrepancies and gaps in a story, they read body language, and they decide when a witness may be lying or withholding information so they can ask more questions. A great investigator also understands the law underlying the criminal charges against you and knows how to frame questions in subtle ways that can give your lawyer important insights on strategy.
Deep Understanding of Law Enforcement Procedures: Whether you’re up against local or state police, or federal agents from the FBI, DEA, ATF or other agency, one of the main jobs of the investigator on your defense team is to make sure that those agents have followed proper procedure in every way at every step of their process – that there are no errors or omissions in how evidence and government-generated reports are handled, cataloged, or used. It is far more common than the public realizes for assertions made by prosecutors and law enforcement agents as being “true” or “accurate” to be debunked after being checked out by a good investigator.
Scientifically Minded: Top investigators work hard to keep themselves up to date on critical – and often fast-changing — science across a huge range of forensic topics as varied as crime scene reconstruction to DNA analysis to the psychology of false memories.
People and Communication Skills: Knowing which questions to ask and how to evaluate evidence is critical, of course, but getting people to cooperate with you is just as important. Successful investigators have excellent social skills and have the personality necessary to get people to talk. The point is to get information without making people feel like they’re being interrogated. Each interview requires a different tact and your investigator needs to adjust accordingly in order to build your best defense.
Priorities, Priorities, Priorities: The best investigator understands priorities, is immediately on board with your case, and works with your lawyer to determine which aspects of your case are urgent and which aren’t. If you were charged with sexual misconduct, for example, it is likely that a No Contact order will be entered preventing the investigator from speaking to the person making the complaint. In that case, it’s imperative for the investigator to speak to the accuser immediately before an order is entered. Any delay can have a negative effect on your case. A great investigator knows the stages of your type of case what needs to be done when.
Ingenuity and Tenacity: A good investigator uses all available resources, databases, court records, social networking sites, driving records, criminal records, employment history, civil litigation and any other records and sources of information that are going to help you create a strong defense.
The bottom line is that if you’re in trouble with the law for any reason, your best shot at defending yourself is to get a strong criminal defense TEAM on your side – a team that consists of an experienced criminal defense lawyer AND an experienced criminal defense investigator.