Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Investigating a Case

Usually, my cases are pretty straightforward: Police say X, my client says Y, there are no witnesses, I run a motion to get the police officer's personnel file for any complaints (denied, or I get nothing, or anything I get is ruled inadmissible by the judge - it must be one of those three, since I have never before been able to present testimony by others who have filed complaints about a cop in trial). I am left to challenge holes in the police testimony, or look for areas of weakness in the prosecution case, or something of the sort. Sometimes I have legal defense to what the person has done, sometimes I admit the facts but deny that a crime has been committed, or any other of a large variety of possibilities may emerge.

What sometimes happens is that I actually uncover a large amount of information through my investigation. This is usually a very satisfying situation. Of course, what sometimes happens is that the information that I uncover completely screws my client. That is not a good thing for them, although it is oddly satisfying, probably both because my client has lied like crazy to me, giving me a powerless feeling that I really do have someone here in custody who has been completely railroaded and can do little about it - only to find out that he's lying like crazy, but at least I'm not dealing with a situation that's going to haunt me for years to come with that innocent man sitting in prison for life due in part to my lack of efforts. Hell, even his own witnesses say he did it. The other satisfying part about that situation is that when I uncover all of this stuff that buries my client, I do not have to turn it over, so as the case proceeds, I realize that I know more about the case than the DA and Detective do, which sometimes allows me to spring things on them in trial that they are completely unprepared for. I don't need to turn over the bad stuff to the DA, and I can bring out the good things that their witnesses may know about without having to let them know any of the bad stuff in my possession.

Once in a great while, though, I actually have the ability to present a full case. And that is what has happened on one of my attempted murder cases. Everything my client has told me has proved to be true, or at least, many different independant witnesses have corroborated his story about him, and about the complaining witness. Since this case is a no-witness stabbing case, and my client was the stabber, any witnesses about my client's propensity for violence, or the victim's propsensity for violence, would be most helpful. This is also a great case because when I first got the case and read it, I said to myself something along the lines of "what an asshole" about my client. Then, after talking to my client, I was completely swayed by him (something that happens only infrequently), to the extent that I felt he had real explanations for all of the bad stuff in the case. The concern I had then was that an innocent man, that I believed, would have no evidence to support his case. However, my crack investigator has managed to find quite a few witnesses, including some who were very hard to find, who corroborate my client's explanations of the circumstances surrounding the case. She has also found several good character witnesses for my client, and some witnesses who say that the victim is a violent, ill-tempered man prone to attacking people for no reason (he was fired from a job for this).

So, now I suddenly have something to argue, and it is due to the investigation I conducted. Quite frequently, my investigations are meant to cover my butt (when, for instance, your client charged with serial rapes says that he was at his girlfriend's house on the night of each rape, or that he was at work, or something of the sort, despite the DNA that came back to him - you still have to follow up on all of his claims, absurd though they may be. It is not for me to decide whether he is telling the truth, I assume he is telling the truth, and fully investigate accordingly), it is nice to have investigations that are actually productive and bring about good results.

These are among the most satisfying achievements one can have. I may still lose this case (probably won't go to trial for another month or so), but I know that the jury will have heard everything, will have seen my very best efforts, and will make their decision with the benefit of all my efforts showing my client's innocence. They may not agree, but at least I can sleep well knowing that their decision was made out of knowledge and not out of ignorance.

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