Criminal Defense Investigator

criminal defense

Early in my career, I worked for the Federal Public Defender’s Office as a Criminal Defense Investigator. One of my first cases was defending a man accused of robbing a bank. After an initial review of the discovery and evidence, it became clear to me that the evidence was weak. In this situation, Federal law enforcement narrowed their search to our client without doing a full due diligence investigation of the case. As the assigned investigator, I was able to go out and re-interview all of the witnesses which revealed several inconsistencies in the prosecution’s discovery. During my investigation I was able to identify another potential suspect that could have robbed the bank and our client was found not guilty at trial. While each case and outcome are different, this was a defining moment for me in realizing how critical criminal defense investigation is in our criminal justice system. My client was 26 years old and looking at life in prison. Because this client had access to a criminal defense investigator, he was able to walk a free man for a crime he never committed. 

The following outlines the process in hiring a criminal defense investigator:

The Criminal Defense Process:

The Arrest

To have a case to defend, there must be a client who has been arrested. The arrest may have occurred by a City, County, State or US Federal Government. Most cases involve either misdemeanor or felony charges. Misdemeanor cases typically carry less jail time and fines compared with felony convictions. Even though misdemeanor cases carry less punitive measures, the consequences of having a misdemeanor conviction can be far reaching that could have an effect on employment, owning a firearm, etc. For example, an individual convicted of a Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence (often referred to as the “Lautenberg Amendment”) would result in that individual being restricted to have any access to firearms. Once an individual has been arrested, they need to strategize a defense for themselves. This would include hiring an attorney and a criminal defense investigator. 

The Criminal Defense Investigator?

Once you have an attorney working for you, you should really consider hiring a criminal defense investigator at the beginning of the process. Your criminal defense investigator will work closely with your attorney through every phase of the case. Having a criminal defense investigator early in your case will allow time for a detailed investigation to provide the defendant the best options available as they decide how to strategize their case. A good thing to remember is that even after the arrest has been made, typically you have numerous law enforcement investigators still working the case, collecting new evidence, and preparing for trial. You want to make sure the defendant has that same ability and resource as they are typically fighting for their freedom and way of life. Make sure the criminal defense investigator you hire has law enforcement experience and understands the criminal justice system from both sides of the fence. You should also hire a criminal defense investigator that has credible education (preferably someone with a graduate degree in the field of criminal justice or similar study). The criminal defense investigator needs to be competent in interviewing skills and writing comprehensive reports. 

Discovery of case

One of the first things a defense team will do after their client has been arrested is to file a motion for discovery from the prosecution. Discovery is any evidence the prosecution intends to use against you in court. Discovery could include all police reports, DMV records, a list of witnesses interviewed, a list of any physical evidence obtained that would show evidence of guilt in a trial, etc. Having a criminal defense investigator would allow the defendant to have their own independent investigator to conduct a thorough investigation of the case, separate from the prosecutions team. Having the ability to investigate early in a case would be advantageous for the client to ensure no opportunities are missed in collecting evidence or finding new witnesses.

The Interviews

Why are interviews so important? You must be able to create the narrative for what happen and present them with unbiased, credible witnesses. In most cases, law enforcement investigators will interview witnesses and obtain their written statements. These witnesses will be used to testify against the defendant in trial. Having a criminal defense investigator locate and interview witnesses will allow the defendant to collect their own version of facts for the case. An attorney cannot interview the witnesses and cross-examine himself in court. You need to have an independent criminal defense investigator to collect the needed witnesses’ statements and be able to testify of the facts in court.

The Trial

Trials are rare in the criminal justice system – and acquittals are even rarer. For example, in the Federal criminal justice systems, nearly 80,000 people were defendants in federal criminal cases in fiscal 2018, but just 2% of them went to trial. The overwhelming majority (90%) pleaded guilty instead, while the remaining 8% had their cases dismissed. ( 

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criminal defense investigator
Criminal Defense

The Defense Attorney

Once an individual has been charged with a crime, several things will occur depending on the severity of the charge. In some cases, defendants will be released without a requirement for any bail being posted. More serious charges would probably require some type of bond to be secured prior to being released, pending the trial for their case. In many cases, a court appointed attorney will be assigned to a defendant if they cannot afford their own attorney (this will be determined by the courts based on a person’s income and financial resources). There is a known reputation that court appointed attorneys do not really care about their clients. It is said that they are just another number in the system and that a person will not get an adequate defense with a court appointed Lawyer. In my experience, a court appointed attorney is not incompetent or unwilling to defend their clients, it really comes down to lack of funding and resources. Think about how many police investigators a prosecutor has at their disposal to work their case against you! Therefore, having a criminal defense investigator on your team is imperative in balancing the scales of justice to afford you a fair defense. You will also have an advantage to hiring your own attorney whose soul interest will be to defend your case. 

The Crime Scene

Having the ability to investigate early in a case would be advantageous for the client to ensure all evidence is collected and all witnesses interviewed. For example, let’s say that the case involved an assault that occurred at a local convenience store. Time would be of the essence in this situation to get a criminal defense investigator to the crime scene as quickly as possible before any evidence was possibly destroyed. Perhaps there would still be blood stains at the scene that you would want to collect and conduct your own forensic analysis of, independent of the prosecution. There could be video evidence that you would want to preserve before it is erased or delated from the system. You also want to have the ability to interview witnesses of what they saw while it is still fresh in their minds. Getting written statements from witnesses can also be critical since it could contradict what they told police. All you need to provide is reasonable doubt in a criminal case to exonerate a client. Having a criminal defense investigator can mean the difference between a conviction or exoneration of the charges.


In many cases you may hire a criminal defense investigator to collect evidence that will help mitigate a plea deal or lighter sentence. If you do go to trial, having a criminal defense investigator on your team will greatly enhance your chances for winning your case. In many cases, the prosecution has an unlimited amount of resources to assist them in prosecuting their case (multiple investigators, forensic specialist, etc). I have seen too many cases where it really is David vs Goliath and the defense has little or no resources to properly defend their cases. To really have a chance of winning in trial you need to have a competent professional criminal defense investigator at your side of the table!

Contact Stonehaven: Private Investigations to get a free consultation on your case at 801-613-2174 or visit our website at 

Salt Lake Private Investigator

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