Investigation Pays Off

I had a huge, amazing, delightful break through on an investigation today.

There is just absolutely no substitute for a fantastic investigation. I cannot understand attorneys who don't get out there in the field and do their own investigations. Now, maybe if I had a truly fantastic investigator, it'd be easy to just hand my cases off. But, instead, I perform many of my own investigations, either with other attorneys or with my amazing summer intern. (And if there's any chance a case is actually going to trial, I definitely have to get out there myself.)

I feel like I have such a greater understanding of my cases just by visiting the scene, visiting the scene, and visiting the scene again. There's just so much that can be acheived by seeing something in person and speaking to people in person.

Just as an example, I've had a very serious case pending for quite some time. It's scheduled for just after the holiday weekend and I still could not find the complainant. My investigator and I tried every technological means possible. We visited the scene, we visited his friends, we visited his enemies, we visited the scene again. It was like he was a ghost.

Finally, tonight, we went back and retraced the route again: visited the scene, spoke to his friends, spoke to his enemies. We saw one witness we had spoken to before and asked, "Hi! Remember us?" He kissed my hand, offered us coffee, and... finally... introduced us to the complainant.

I spoke to the complainant for all of two minutes when he said, "I'm not going to come to court. Tell your client I forgive him, I just want to get on with my life."

I could have had the best investigator in the world tell me "No, he's not coming to court," and, as much as I would have wanted to believe it, I wouldn't have known for sure.

But having seen it for myself, I know that I can relax this weekend.

Happy 4th of July.

13 comments:

  1. *blushing*

    Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say fantastic, it's probably more like adequate?

    Either way, good work!

    I fully support the idea that attorney's go out in the field (when possible) with their investigators on serious cases where they have to visit crime scenes...

    Although, after reading this:

    He kissed my hand, offered us coffee, and... finally... introduced us to the complainant.

    I got a little jealous. I've gotten hugs and coffee but NEVER a kiss.

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  2. That is wonderful. Enjoy the weekend!

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  3. Yay! Sounds like the guy you met previously was quite a classy gentleman :)

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  4. From a cranky old lawyer who was a PD long long ago (1977-81): Just be sure to cover your butt on the self-performed investigation thing. Be sure you have witnesses when you talk to folks.

    The last thing you need when your client's case falls apart 'cause the complainant doesn't show up, is a PO'd deputy DA claiming you interfered with a witness. I hope that if challenged you can show that the complainant told you that he wasn't going to come to court, and it wasn't a matter of you telling him not to come to court!

    I like your attitude, though. We had good investigators but I still usually visited the scenes on any case that was going to trial. Often it meant I knew more about the case than the prosecutor, heh heh. Once when fingerprints were part of the evidence, I went to the police dept and talked to their technician, had him explain them to me. He said NO prosecutor had EVER visited him there or asked him those questions.

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  5. Congratulations on a job well done. Enjoy your long weekend.

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  6. In my experience, when stuff like this happens, they don't show up for court... Until they are tagged with a subpoena and hotboxed by some eager-beaver victim's advocate about how the client really NEEDS to go to jail for a long long time.

    Sorry to say, I'd be ready for trial.

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  7. Sounds like you did a great job really getting out there and seeing it for yourself. And a kiss and coffee from your witness? You and your summer intern must be something else.
    Keep up the good work.

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  8. That's terrific that you got closure. Enjoy your July 4!

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  9. During the criminal work I did in law school, the investigations were some of the most interesting parts (though I have to admit, there were a few scary moments), and of course, there was the one time I had to go searching for my own client, which seemed a bit much.

    Congratulations on getting to enjoy the holiday, and on your perseverence.

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  10. Every place does things differently, but my take is that I won't permit a complainant to take the ball and go home. Unless there is some strong equitable reason present, the complainant will come, even if I have to seek a bench warrant on him for ignoring my subpoena. Now if he's gone to the other side and I can't prove my case, I may not have any choice but to dismiss... but he's damn well gonna obey the subpoena, come to court, and probably testify under oath first. And if he tells some version different than what he told the police, he's gonna get charged with obstruction.

    I don't like people making complaints, getting other people arrested and sometimes held in jail pending trial, only to say "whoops, I didn't really mean it."

    Bottom line: the people decide the fate of a case, not a witness.

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  11. I had some of the same thoughts as Suz. When I was a PD we were encouraged to use the investigators, since it was more effective to impeach a witness who changed their story by calling an investigator, rather than puttinng yourself in the position of trying to get the witness to admit that they lied to you by essentially crossing a hostile witness on direct. And, there are ethical issues that come into play as well, aren't there?

    Gald you got the info. you needed though.

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  12. Suz & Moi are right: you need to have a witness to your investigation. That's why my intern was there. (Also, because she gets people talking.)

    Now, Tom, as far as whether a witness who says they won't come forward actually will... Here it seems that most prosecutors are too busy to follow up with a witness who says they want to drop a case. I think the prosecutors are thankful to have one less case to worry about and take the attitude of "If you don't care about your case, neither do I."

    In this instance, at least, I know that I have found the complaining witness and the prosecutor hasn't - at least not yet.

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  13. Kudos! I am a soon to be third year who is at a boring summer internship. I was wondering what kinds of things you have your intern doing? Apart from going with you to investigate, that is. That alone is more interesting than what I do.

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