Defense Investigations in Virginia Criminal Cases
It is very common fora Virginia criminal defense attorney to conduct their own investigation of the events that led to the client being charged with a criminal offense. This means your attorney is not simply going to take the prosecutor’s words for what certain witnesses would say, certain documents would say, or how certain evidence was collected. A good attorney will reach out to independent witnesses, issue subpoenas and subpoenas duces tecum (which is subpoena for documents) and use resources available to them to determine whether or not the commonwealth’s investigations were done within the bounds of the law.
Even after many years on the job, a criminal lawyer will want to visit the scene of most incidents in order to really picture the events unfolding. This is even true in the age of surveillance tape and dashboard cameras. It is possible to uncover extremely important information with feet on the ground. The experience an attorney gains investigating criminal charges is invaluable in evaluating the strength of evidence in each new case.
Aspects of a Defense Side Investigation
Depending on the type of charge and the jurisdiction, there may be a variety of different angles for a defense investigation. For example, if it is a white collar or property crime that involves extensive financial records, or even a DUI/DWI, a subpoena duces tecum may be appropriate for banks, credit card companies or other financial institutions to lay appropriate foundation as to what must be proven. Likewise, if it is a case with a number of in person witnesses, such as an assault case or a robbery case, the defense investigations must be catered towards in person interviews regarding direct evidence. It is usually best practice to employ a professional personal investigator and clients should be very wary of working with firms that do not employ investigative professionals regularly.
Serious cases, especially serious violent cases, may trigger additional investigations. Those investigations typically cater to the charge and to what elements of the particular charge are issues. For example, if it is an identity case, the defense investigation may go into background and the inefficiency of the identification. If it is a DNA or a blood work case, or case where certain forensic information is examined, such as drugs by the department of forensic science, then investigations go into the reliability of the testing procedures, the protocols and the evidence that was given to the testing.
Even in a DUI/DWI case it is not uncommon to view many hours of video footage and review hundreds of pages of subpoenaed documents before completing the investigation.
Benefit of a Criminal Attorney
One of the best resources the defense attorneys have is accessibility of on staff investigators. These investigators have experience in conducting criminal investigations and the ability to run quick background checks, talk to witnesses, and track down other important information which is helpful. It is very common to have to let businesses or other individuals know that you will need video for your case, and there are a number of advantages to having an investigator involved.
Other resources include the power to issue subpoena power for witness to appear or subpoena duces tecum for essential documents. This power is extremely important when utilized properly within the Virginia court system. A properly utilized subpoena for documents can reveal important evidence, show a fatal flaw in a case, or highlight an important issue for negotiations.
There are a wide variety of colleagues and resources that are helpful in Virginia criminal defense cases, including trade organizations, such as the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the National College for DUI Defense for DUI cases, and other learned colleagues that have experience in criminal procedures and evidence law, and may have encountered similar evidentiary and factual issues before. It is important to use all of these resources that are available.
Process For Beginning a Defense Side Investigation
Our process of investigation depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. Once the facts of the case are analyzed and everything is laid out, a defense attorney may work backward from what the Commonwealth must prove in order to obtain a conviction against the defendant. This includes looking at all the evidence present from the defense’s point of view and looking for any additional evidence that may help the situation.
There are typically three branches of evidence that might be presented in court: testimonial evidence, actual evidence (like a bag of drugs or a stolen item), and evidence such as video or photographic evidence or other recordings. A good criminal lawyer will be able to evaluate the types of evidence the prosecutor has available and how it can be used to prove the elements of a crime, as well as what defenses are available, before deciding whether to accept a deal or go to trial.