Nashville private investigator, Thomas H. Humphreys continues his series on how to best use the talents of your professional investigator.
Part 3 - Locating Witnesses
Once you take a complicated criminal case, call your professional investigator as soon as practicable. A professional investigator will, upon retention, begin working on a list of potential witnesses. Brief your investigator on as many details of the case as possible. Provide your investigator with a full case file: police reports, statements, crime scene photos, sketches, etc. Your investigator is performing work product, which should (in most cases and in most states) be protected.
The first step is to identify and locate all witnesses in the police reports and statements. Obviously, the professional investigator will (should) interview all of the witnesses that the police have identified. Some of them may not want to talk to you, and they don’t necessarily have to, but a good investigator has a very persuasive manner. A professional investigator will be able to deconstruct witness statements, compare and contrast statements taken at various times, and help you to identify flaws and potential areas of exploitation.
The second step, and arguably the most useful, is the neighborhood canvas. A professional investigator will conduct a thorough search for witnesses that the prosecution either could not find, or that the prosecution would rather you not find. A neighborhood canvas is time consuming, tedious, and requires a systematic approach. But, conducted properly, it can unearth valuable, game-changing information.
The Appeal Phase
Let's say that your client has been found guilty of first-degree murder and received the death penalty. The crime happened in 1992. Your firm, located in New York, took on the habeas case pro bono. The crime occurred in Memphis. Witnesses have moved. People have forgotten, or have claimed forgetfulness. Time, as they say, marched on. Your resources are tight, and the stakes are extremely high. Please, I beg you, hire a private investigator.
Example: A law firm took on an appeals case here in Tennessee. One witness had offered statements which described three variations of the story, with important differences. Her statement to the police said the defendant had blood on her hands. Her statement to the prosecutor claimed the defendant was “covered” in blood. Her statement to the defense read that the defendant had cuts on her fists and bruises on her face.
The witness owned a house in Germantown, TN. Her daughters lived nearby. They didn’t especially want Mom, by then in her late 70s, to face all this badness again. They would not, under any circumstances, reveal where mom was. A professional investigator, who was called in after three years of trying to locate this witness, found her in less than a day.
Turns out, mom had wanted to set the record straight for years.