investigators in your criminal defense team

Criminal Investigators as a Part of Your Defense Team

The Advantages of Using Investigators as Part of Your Criminal Defense Team

While television and cinema often portray private investigators as eccentrics with a keen eye for detail such as Sherlock Holmes or Columbo or worse, as slimy types who willingly break the law and all bounds of decency trying to catch cheating spouses, the truth is that most private investigators are highly skilled professionals with a definite empathy for people on both sides of a criminal investigation and a deep respect for the law and police officers. This is because, as you could imagine, most investigators are former officers and detectives themselves.

Our attorneys regularly utilize investigators as part of our criminal defense team. Investigators are just as necessary in white-collar cases as they are for traditional criminal cases.

Why Utilize Criminal Investigators if the Police are Already Investigated the Allegations?

Why are investigators necessary when the police (or federal agents) are already investigating a case? Regardless of anyone’s trust level regarding law enforcement, there is no question that independent oversight only enhances one’s confidence in the conclusions of an investigation. Put another way, police agencies, all law enforcement agencies for that matter, are comprised of human beings. Unfortunately, as with anything else, some officers and supervisors are more trustworthy than others. The fact that a criminal prosecution could cost a person’s liberty is by itself a sufficient reason to employ a private investigator.

But even when a case is investigated by honest officers or agents, there is still the concern about the potential for unintended inaccuracy that often accompanies any case. That is, agents, and all people for that matter, have biases and a tendency to draw conclusions from incomplete information. For example, most cases are not caught on video or include definitive DNA samples. Rather, officers and agents typically evaluate evidence and put it against the prism of their own experience. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to state that inductive reasoning is the lifeblood of the criminal justice system.

However, the prevalance of inductive conclusions within the system does not mean that those under the microscope should simply take an officer’s conclusions at face value. Rather, it is important for the accused (or targeted) to assemble a team that is dedicated to examining as many unexamined facts as possible before deciding whether to fight a case or set on a course for negotiation.

This is not only true in typical criminal cases such as robbery, burglary, assault, DWI, or drug distribution. It is also critically important to have an investigator in white-collar cases because such cases often include a tremendous amount of records and data that are not understood by most people. Ironically, these cases often are the result of more assumptions, conjecture, and bias than even traditional offenses.

But why is this the case? For one simple reason, very few people in our culture like to read a lot or do math at a higher than 3rd grade level. As a result, most white-collar cases such as Medicare Fraud, Wire Fraud, Money Laundering, Bank Fraud, or Tax Evasion, are simply based upon Government statistics and conclusions.

To use an analogy, a typical street crime such as robbery will often come down to eye-witness accounts and a search for fingerprints. That is because identity is often the key issue in a robbery case. However, in an embezzlement case there is very little doubt as to who the culprit would be if a crime took place. Rather it is the process of determining whether a crime took place at all that becomes the focus in these cases. Put another way, whereas a street-crime private investigator would likely go to the scene and re-interview witnesses, a white-collar investigator will examine whatever records and documents (often bank records, incorporation papers, and/or billing data) they can find or obtain. In effect, in these cases the documents themselves are often the witnesses. A bank statement may be the fingerprint. A signature card may be the DNA sample. And the Equifax report may be the confession. Put simply, failing to utilize an investigator in a white-collar case would be akin to gazing at the stars without a telescope or going to a joust without a horse.

Should Your Attorney be Your Investigator?

Why can’t an attorney perform the same functions as an investigator? There is one very simple answer: attorneys can’t testify. Even if you are lucky enough to find a white collar crime attorney who understands spreadsheets as well as the federal government’s best investigators, or attorneys who understands the intricacies of DNA evidence, the attorney’s own findings may be meaningless if the findings cannot be presented at trial.

What attorneys say in trial is not considered evidence. That means that attorneys almost never testify because they do not have any direct knowledge to offer a judge or jury. On the other hand, investigators are often expert witnesses that are allowed to summarize evidence and give legal conclusions (technically speaking they cannot unilaterally resolve a matter but are allowed to testify as to ‘ultimate conclusions of fact’ which is pretty close to the same thing). This is important because if there are facts that weren’t considered by law enforcement or if agents rendered a faulty conclusion in their investigation there is no way to counteract that without evidence. Lawyers can’t provide that. Investigators can.

Investigators also an efficient use of resources. While investigators are an added expense they aren’t necessarily as expensive as one might think. Attorneys are at their best when they focus primarily on trial preparation, analyzing the government’s case, preparing legal pleadings (documents), witness questions, and argument. Utilizing them for non-legal tasks (data mining, crime scene examination, and creation of expert reports) is an inefficient, and often costly, way to handle a case. It makes sense to have a team of professionals who each concentrate on what they do best. This is both effective and cost effective. Typically, even with experts, their cost is minor in comparison to an attorney’s.

At Varghese Summersett PLLC, we use a variety of professionals in our team approach to criminal defense work. We also use forensic analysts and former government experts to assist us with our investigations and trial preparation. We know that thorough investigations help bring the truth to light. Call Varghese Summersett PLLC to find out how our team of criminal defense professionals can assist you.

About the Author
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Steve Jumes

Steve Jumes is former Assistant United States Attorney and he is also a Board Certified Criminal Law Specialist. Steve handles federal and state criminal matters in addition to being one of the nation's foremost asset forfeiture attorneys. A former prosecutor at both the state and federal level, Steve Jumes is admitted to the Northern, Eastern, and Western Federal Districts in Texas. Steve Jumes has tried over 100 cases to juries in the state and federal system.Steve Jumes focuses primarily on white collar crimes. He is experienced in high-profile money laundering, wire fraud, health care fraud, and tax matters.