The Advantages of Using Investigators as Part of Your Criminal Defense Team
Television and cinema often portray private investigators as eccentrics with a keen eye for detail, such as Sherlock Holmes or Columbo — or worse, as unscrupulous characters who willingly break the law and bounds of decency trying to catch cheating spouses. In reality, most private investigators are highly skilled professionals with empathy for people on both sides of a criminal investigation and a deep respect for the law and police officers. This is because most private investigators are former officers and detectives themselves.
Our attorneys regularly use criminal investigators as part of our defense team. Criminal investigators are just as necessary in white collar cases as they are for common criminal cases, such as drug offenses or gang crimes.
Why Use Criminal Investigators if the Police are Already Investigating?
The fact that a criminal prosecution could cost a person’s liberty is, by itself, sufficient reason to employ a private criminal investigator. But let’s drill down a little further.
Regardless of your level of trust for law enforcement, there is no question that independent oversight can only enhance confidence in the conclusion of an investigation. Unfortunately, as with anything else, some law enforcement officials are more trustworthy than others. And even when a case is investigated by honest officers or agents, there is still a concern for an unintended inaccuracy.
Agents — and all people for that matter — have biases and a tendency to draw conclusions from incomplete information. Most cases are not caught on video or include definitive DNA samples. Rather, officers and agents must evaluate evidence and put it against the prism of their own experience. It is not an exaggeration to say that inductive reasoning is the lifeblood of the criminal justice system.
Individuals under the microscope should not take a law enforcement officer’s conclusions at face value. Rather, it is important for the accused or targeted individual to assemble a team dedicated to examining as many un-examined facts as possible before deciding whether to fight a case or set 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 a criminal investigator in white-collar cases, which often include a tremendous amount of complex records and data. Ironically, these cases often are the result of more assumptions, conjecture, and bias than traditional offenses due to the fact that few people like to read or do math a higher than a third-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.
Investigating 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 did in fact take place, and that becomes the focus in these cases.
While a street-crime private investigator would likely go to the scene and re-interview witnesses, a white-collar investigator would examine whatever records and documents they can find or obtain (bank records, incorporation papers, billing data, etc.) In effect, 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 a criminal 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 your attorney perform the same functions as a criminal investigator? There is one very simple answer: your attorney 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 an attorney who understands the intricacies of DNA evidence, the lawyer’s findings may be meaningless if they cannot be presented at trial.
On the other hand, private criminal investigators are often called as expert witnesses and are allowed to summarize evidence and give legal conclusions (technically speaking they cannot unilaterally resolve a matter, but they 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; Criminal investigators can.
Private criminal investigators also an efficient use of resources. While investigators are an added expense, they aren’t necessarily as expensive as you might think. Attorneys are at their best when they focus primarily on trial preparation, analyzing the government’s case, preparing legal pleadings, forming witness questions, and crafting arguments. Utilizing attorneys for non-legal tasks, such as 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.
At Varghese Summersett PLLC, we use a variety of professionals in our team approach to criminal defense work. We also use private criminal investigators, 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 today to find out how our team of criminal defense professionals can help you.