Colorado Criminal Law – Defense Based Investigation – Retaining An Investigator – A Guidebook
Colorado Criminal Law – Defense Based Investigation – Retaining An Investigator – A Guidebook
The Meaning Of “Vestigare”
The word vestigare is from the Latin word for tracking or tracing evidence. In defending a criminal case – a thorough investigation can make the difference between winning – losing – or a reaching successful plea bargain.
A good defense investigation can only result from a careful “step-by-step” examination of the evidence – or lack of evidence – in a Colorado criminal case. The concept of discovering and then collecting evidence to determine who is actually responsible for the commission of a crime -(if ANYONE) – is the goal of the defense investigation.
A thorough criminal defense investigation reconstructs the crime ab initio – Latin for “from the start.” If you are charged with a crime – there must be a body of credible and complete evidence to support the accusation. Obviously the more evidence against the accused – the stronger the proof of guilty and the stronger the case. The opposite is also true. The goal of a defense investigation is to weaken the State’s case and strengthen the defense case using what often turns out to be the State’s evidence.
What Is A “Successful” Colorado Criminal Case Investigation?
A successful investigation does the following:
- Follows a logical sequence.
- Makes certain all physical evidence is legally obtained and accounted for.
- Makes certain all possible witnesses are interviewed.
- Makes certain ALL possible leads are developed and followed.
- Makes certain all details of a case are accurately recorded and reported.
An Example Of A Checklist To Evaluate The Police Officer’s Preliminary Investigation
All criminal defense checklists need to make certain at least these questions are answered:
- Was a police “log” maintained for all the actions of the police?
- Was the crime scene properly secured?
- Was the evidence seized properly collected and protected?
- Were photographs or videotapes taken of the scene?
- Did the police take proper measurements and were accurate sketches made?
- Did the police preserve ALL the evidence including evidence that can spoil or degrade?
- Did the police perform timely and thorough witness interviews as soon as possible?
- Who called the complaint? and what was the specific content of that initial report?
- Who received the initial complaint?
- Did the police or witnesses see any other suspicious persons or vehicles while they were en route or at the scene?
- What was the lighting like at the scene?
- What time did law enforcement arrive?
- What was the actual time of the alleged commission of the crime?
- What were the weather conditions and what was the temperature?
- Who – if anyone – was injured at the scene?
- Who did the police first contact at the scene and why that person?
- Who claimed to be the victim?
- What was the actual – “out of the mouth” statement made by the alleged victim? Were they able to give an account of the crime?
- Who were all of the witnesses at the scene?
- Were there any unusual noises heard such as shots, cars, screams, loud language, prying or breaking noises?
- Was an exact description of the suspect obtained? If there was – what was that physical description? (jewelry worn, unusual voice or body odors; unusual marks, wounds, scratches, scars; nicknames used; clothing; cigarettes or cigars smoked; weapon used or carried; direction of leaving the scene)
- How was the crime scene physically protected?
- Which specific officers were present during the initial investigation?
- Were there police specialists called in to assist in the examination?
- If there was evidence discovered at the scene? – How was it collected, how was it identified, amd how was it preserved using a forensic analysis?
What Should You Look For In A Colorado Criminal Defense Investigator?
Finding an excellent and seasoned investigator who is knowledgeable, creative, patient and persistent – is difficult. Former detectives and other seasoned investigators are out there – finding a good one is a chalenge – but they ARE out there.
Because witnesses are often biased and will lie or tell half-truths – you will need to locate an investigator that has a sense for figuring out who is telling the truth, who is not telling the truth(and why) and who has important information to the defense theory of the case.
“Sticking with it” means staying with the tasks assigned as long as it is necessary – and that means notwithstanding the long hours, days or months of leads that may never pan out.
Good investigators are rare. Former police officers are a good place to start – especially those with major case responsibilities. Major crime Detectives with years of experience will not only examine all possible cause-and-effect relations, they will find links and draw conclusions that are the result of a patient and thorough exploration of all reasonable alternatives for the existence of the evidence or – perhaps – why certain expected evidence is missing.
inferences And Deductions
All inferences are drawn from known facts. But valid “leads” drawn from inferences usually result from the application of classic deductive reasoning – reasoning from the general to the specific. On the other hand inductive reasoning – reasoning from the specific to the general -is often what is needed in a criminal investigation.
The truly excellent investigator can do both successfully.
Finding The Evidence The Police Leave Behind
Police often negligently or intentionally overlook tangible evidence. Trace such as fingerprints, small particles of glass or dirt, a faint footprint, body hairs or clothing fibers are ignored because of the cost of an investigation or limited resources.
The first law enforcement officer who responds to a crime scene is known as the primary officer.This “beat: officer is often a rookie – BUT he or she – is in charge until another, more experienced officer, arrives. The damage done to a case by that first officer cannot be underestimated.
More cases are later won or lost by the mistakes or lack of mistakes made by “the primary” in the first hour of a Colorado criminal investigation.
First responders are tasked to locate – amidst the often chaotic crime scene – critical evidence in the form of witnesses and physical evidence. Decisions made at the point of arrival about the removal of the suspect – securing of the scene – interviewing witnesses and seizing and/or securing evidence can either make – or destroy a case.
The irony here? – those police officers who have no assigned responsibilities at a crime scene often contaminate it. Instead of preserving the scene and interviewing or canvassing for witnesses or searching for evidence, they destroy the integrity of the scene.
Locard’s principle of investigation – states that – as a matter of basic forensic theory – objects that come in contact with each other always transfer material, however minute, to each other.
It is THAT evidence is easily be lost if the crime scene is unprotected or not properly processed.
Officers not directly involved in processing the crime scene are routinely “allowed” inside the crime scene perimeter and will often ignore posted warnings. A crime scene – properly processed – should record with photographs, videotape, sketches and complete, accurate notes, as much as is possible – for use later in the analysis of the case or use at trial.
If statements offered by victims, witnesses or suspects at or very near to the time of the crime go undiscovered – an accused only defense may be lost in the chaos.
The Jury Expects a CSI Type Investigation – The Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer Should Utilize That Expectation In The Defense Of The Case
When processing a crime scene – criminalists record, identify and interpreting physical evidence seized from the scene of an alleged crime. A criminalist is a crime scene technician whose job it is to search for, collect, and preserve physical evidence.
The science of “Criminalistics” – like all forensic sciences – is one of several disciplines that play a role in solving criminal cases and freeing the innocent. There sciences include DNA, pathology, entomology, odontology, anthropology, photography, serology, toxicology, fingerprint, footprint and dozens of other categories that lawyers use to defend their clients.
The CSI “Effect”
Juries expect – almost demand that a crime scene investigator (CSI) be involved in the organized and scientific collection and processing of evidence.
Because of television forensic dramas such as CSI – Miami the phenomenon known as the “CSI Effect” is not only impacting criminal investigations – these same dramas are compelling juries to ask for – actually demand – “more evidence.”
Juries are educated to expect that forensic science is used to solve crimes. Juries can be selected based on their expectation that scientific evidence will exist in every case.
The Colorado criminal defense lawyer should nurture the juries’ CSI Effect expectation.
A study published by the National Institute of Justice Journal in 2008 found that:
- 46 percent expected to see some kind of scientific evidence in every criminal case.
- 22 percent expected to see DNA evidence in every criminal case.
- 36 percent expected to see fingerprint evidence in every criminal case.
- 32 percent expected to see ballistic or other firearms laboratory evidence in every criminal case
Summary – Colorado Criminal Law – Defense Based Investigation – Retaining An Investigator – A Guidebook
A Good Colorado criminal investigator discovers, collects, prepares identifies and presents evidence to the criminal defense lawyer – then makes recommendations on how the information can be utilized to defend the case.
Preliminary investigations done by local police departments – often fail to:
- properly question victims, witnesses and suspects.
- conduct a proper neighborhood canvass.
- measure, photograph, videotape and sketch the scene;
- searching for evidence.
- identify, collect, examine and properly process physical evidence;
- preserve by properly record and videotape ALL statements and observations;
Good Luck – HMS
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Never stop fighting – never stop believing in yourself and your right to due process of law.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: H. Michael Steinberg – Email The Author at [email protected] – A Denver Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer – or call his office at 303-627-7777 during business hours – or call his cell if you cannot wait and need his immediate assistance – 720-220-2277. Attorney H. Michael Steinberg is passionate about criminal defense. His extensive knowledge and experience of Colorado Criminal Law gives him the edge you need to properly handle your case.
You must make a responsible choice for a Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer – we encourage you to look at our firm.
Over the last 30 plus years – H. Michael has mastered nearly every area of criminal law, procedure and trial and courtroom practice and he is passionate about getting you the best result in your case. He has written and continues to write extensively on Colorado criminal law and he hopes this article – – helps you in some small way. H. Michael hopes you found this page helpful – Colorado Criminal Law – Defense Based Investigation – Retaining An Investigator – A Guidebook.