Criminal Defense Investigations: A Method to the Madness
By: Stephen J. Koenig
Certified Criminal Defense Investigator
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
My father was a football coach, teacher, and guidance counselor. He was a great communicator and used his Educational Psychology graduate degree in his and my mother’s raising of their five children. I later learned that my father spoke of the K.I.S.S. Method of Football Coaching. ‘Keep It Simply Simple’ – or something to that effect. I looked at criminal defense investigations with a similar understanding,
K. Know your case.
I. Interview your witnesses.
S. Summarize your findings.
S. Support your attorney.
In pursuit of becoming a more serious-minded, criminal defense investigator, I came upon the Criminal Defense Investigation Training Council. CDITC is where I learned about the Component Method. The Component Method, developed by Brandon Perron, has become the national standard for training and certifying, public defender investigators. Many public defender offices around the country, have their in-house investigators certified, via this program. The Component Method is a road-map on how to conduct a criminal defense investigation. It brought me a deeper understanding, both intellectually and philosophically, of the process.
As part of the defense team, the investigator’s job is to provide investigative support for their attorney. The investigator will be the face for that defense attorney when interviewing witnesses and sources of information. It is important that the investigator conduct themselves in a professional manner. The investigator should utilize positive interviewing techniques, be organized, and provide a well-written summary of their findings.
The investigator should also attempt to stay educated on modern investigative techniques. This can be done via professional investigator associations. There you will meet like-minded investigators who are walking in your shoes every day. Professional criminal defense investigators, like April Higuera, are someone to emulate. I would invite everyone to read her book, Making A Case for Innocence.
My sister, an attorney, stated in an interview that the best advice she was ever given was that by our father. Advice that I recall him saying as well, “Remember the common touch,” which is a line from a Rudyard Kipling poem. It is important to understand that many of the defendants and witnesses you deal with will be poor and indigent people. Many of the homes and places you will visit will have very rough, living conditions and family life, at best, may be very dysfunctional. If you have no empathy for people in those situations, you should not be in this business. No matter who it is, I still use that “common touch” approach in interviewing witnesses and sources of information.
In the end, the criminal defense investigator’s approach should be a total team effort, and as Brandon Perron states, we all need to be, “impartial and objective advocates of the truth.”