A career as a criminal defense investigator is an extremely challenging, but rewarding vocation. The primary goal of a defense attorney is to represent their client and insure they receive a fair trial. Their investigators research all critical aspects of the prosecution’s case, looking for details that could be exculpatory for the defendant on behalf of the defense team. They need to be familiar with police procedure and crime scene investigations as well as conducting research, interviews and investigations. They are likely to question witnesses to help prove a client’s innocence (looking for mistakes by the police and other evidence that will help a client). The freedom and life of the defendant can literally be in their hands.
What Does An Investigative Defense Attorney Do?
Investigators who work for criminal defense law firms collect evidence for defense attorneys to use during criminal trials. They are responsible for fulfilling many of the legal team's research and investigative needs. The usual steps when investigating a crime are interviewing witnesses, collecting background information, and checking the facts contained in police reports. In most cases, the prosecution has developed enough evidence to charge someone with a crime and the defense investigator will carefully double check every aspect of the case for mistakes. They will also try to find new witnesses and evidence that the police may have missed. As part of their job duties, they prepare legal documents, secure testimony for their client, and develop evidence helpful to the defense. In many cases, they will be required to testify during the trial about their investigation.
1. They Are Different From A Regular Defense Attorney
A defense attorney is a lawyer who defends their clients in criminal or civil cases. They defend them in court, negotiate with prosecutors to get a case dismissed or a sentence reduced. Their job is to protect their clients to the best of their abilities. These attorneys make sure the case is truthful and the defense is strong enough to win. However, to do their job successfully they need an investigative defense lawyer to do the groundwork for them, or more accurately, to work together with them. Investigators need to be familiar with the law to look for mistakes in the prosecution’s case as well as to avoid making mistakes themselves.
Criminal defense investigators need a college degree, and a local private investigator license and typically have law enforcement experience. They must be able to collect evidence that will prove their case. A criminal justice, legal studies, or forensics degree would be the best starting point for someone considering this career path unless they have previous law enforcement experience. Someone can become certified through the Criminal Defense Investigation Training Council and National Association of Legal Investigators, which mandate licensing requirements for various states.
2. They Must Be Passionate About The Law
The reality is that investigators must be passionate about the law because the it is a constantly changing field and the stakes for defendant are so large. Rules governing the policy and evidence are change over time. New forensic techniques are developed. Since they will be responsible for building a case where a human's life is on the line, they must be passionate about their work. They must accept that in some cases a defendant might be guilty but it is the defense’s duty to support them to the fullest extent of the law. They need to be energetic and dogged in their job as they must seek to turn over many new stones to find evidence. They need to carefully interview (and in many cases re-interview) witnesses. They need to find the right questions to ask that might have been missed earlier and be careful to follow the correct procedures.
3. They Must Have Excellent Writing, Research, And Interviewing Skills
These are skills that are not merely good to have but are vital. Investigators will be working on a range of cases that will require the following:
> Interview witnesses and conduct an investigation.
> Conduct legal research, including statutory, criminal, and procedural issues.
> In some cases, help to develop a strategy.
> Assist with drafting, filing, and arguing motions, such as motions for dismissal and motions for suppression where the evidence they uncover is part of the defense.
Each of these steps requires an investigative attorney to be concise and transparent with their reports.
4. Investigators Have To Be Able To Work Under Pressure
There are many times when a case demands in-depth knowledge about the law and specialization in certain areas. For example, many investigators work to defend government employees or contractors caught up in government investigations. Within the Federal government, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) in different departments may team up with other government agencies to form cases against individuals or companies allegedly involved with breaking the law. An OIG investigation defense firm will use professional investigators to gather all of the information pertaining to the case to help defend their clients. An investigator must be proficient at accessing government data and digging into the details to see what they can find helpful for their client's case. Whenever a case involves the Department of Justice or another Federal agency, there is tremendous pressure that they must deal with calmly but thoroughly as the future careers of government workers or viability of companies can be on the line if they fail.
5. Being A Criminal Defense Investigator Requires Specialized Skills
Being a criminal defense investigator is a demanding job and often requires specialized skill sets for the job. Such skillsets can include:
> Forensic science.
> Police investigation.
> Court testimony.
> Scientific investigation.
> Computer forensics.
At times, it's not always known how they will use these skills in a case. Some skills you can learn in schools and others on the job. But the tight deadlines, changing technology and shifting laws require an investigator to at the top of their game.
6. Many Were Police Detectives Before
In the past, many investigators for criminal defense firms worked as police detectives. This makes sense seeing as a lot of the work involves the same abilities that would have made them great detectives. It is frequently up to the criminal defense investigators to research the State's witnesses. For example, filing a Public Disclosure Request with police agencies, subpoenaing persons or businesses with relevant information, or interviewing state witnesses to determine any biases or prior acts that might be admissible during defense at trial. There may be evidence or parts of witness testimony the investigator can uncover that supports a client’s innocence that the police missed. In preparation for the defense, it is vital that they diligently gather all relevant information. This is why former police detectives often do well at this particular job.
7. They Pay Attention To Details
A criminal defense investigator must pay attention to detail, often to pick up on subtle clues that could prove or disprove the client at trial. A client unable to account for all assets would be a simple example of this. This is a classic sign of something amiss, and a criminal defense investigator will want to know why. If the client had the money to buy a vehicle, and the car is gone, that is suspicious. If the client has a checking account, and the checking account balance is not where it should be, that is a cause for concern. Are there small inconsistencies in the story of various witnesses? Why? Perhaps their memory is faulty. It is all of these small details that can make or break a case and make them so important.
In short, a Criminal Defense Investigator investigates crimes on behalf of defense attorneys and assists them in putting together a strong defense for a client. This is a great career for those who are passionate about law, are detail oriented, and work well under stress.