Alleged Victim Background Investigation

As criminal defense investigators, we all spend a considerable amount of time peering into the background of alleged victims. Typically, the approach is utilizing public records either in the courthouse or through some paid research database. Without a doubt, this process is needed and a required task in any criminal defense investigation. However, this process is completed as if the investigation is being built upon a factory floor. With more effort and the willingness to overcome some less than desirable conversations with people, we can gain a better understanding of just who the alleged victim really is and their credibility.
Black Eye_7_by_Dion_Gillard

As criminal defense investigators, we all spend a considerable amount of time peering into the background of alleged victims. Typically, the approach is utilizing public records either in the courthouse or through some paid research database. Without a doubt, this process is needed and a required task in any criminal defense investigation. However, this process is completed as if the investigation is being built upon a factory floor. With more effort and the willingness to overcome some less than desirable conversations with people, we can gain a better understanding of just who the alleged victim really is and their credibility.

One of the most disgusting aspects of the current for profit investigation industry is the total focus on public records, databases, and the internet in general. When I first started out completing investigations the focus was squarely focused on one aspect, people! From my perspective now, we are losing this focus. If we have access to a “digital alternative” compared to good old fashion shoe leather, we choose the digital option. Even worse the public has this expectation the digital alternative is superior to old fashion shoe leather. I believe cost was the initial driver for the change, but now I believe investigators themselves are driving the expectation by providing this type of specific work product. The reality is these digital alternatives are nothing more than an investigative aid and should never be viewed more than anything else. In our contemporary setting, many clients are paying the same amount for these digital alternatives as they would for shoe leather. This is a disgusting and unethical practice. The background of individuals is when these digital alternatives become a real danger.

The danger is found in the low quality and limited access these digital alternatives provide. Although, there is quality information available through public records, databases, and the internet in general there is still an extreme limitation to the information. These digital alternatives should only be used as a starting point or what we as investigators refer to as a “lead.” The important aspect to a “lead” is that further development is required to truly gain an understanding of the information. Sure, some digital alternatives provide a smoking gun. For example, during a workers compensation investigation where the target is posting photographs of them involved in some form of activity counter to their alleged injury. However, try finding this level of bang in a complex civil or criminal investigation. The reality is the client ends up with a bill and little high quality information.

At worse, the focus on digital alternatives is creating a generation of investigators that are less skilled. Yes, I did just call a whole bunch of people out! From time to time, we hear rumors of some government agency or some politician pulling the plug on our access to big data or what we call limited access paid databases. From my perspective, let them pull the plug. Yes, we all will be spending more time finding the same information. Yes, you will work harder. But, your client will come to you as the skilled investigator. Doors will shut at the firms, who’s work product revolves around these digital alternatives as some alleged real investigation.

People need to be the focus! When we are investigating an alleged victim during a defense case, a considerable more high quality information is available right on main street compared to what we can uncover on the internet or one of these limited access paid databases. We need to get out and interview people. Talk to their friends and neighbors. Yes, some people are not going to be happy to see you or pick the phone up and hear your voice on the other end. But, this is the key aspect compared to the digital alternative. You need a specialized skill set to obtain information from this form of potential witness pool. The only way you can develop it is by trying again and again. Yes, not every interview will be successful. But, I can promise you, in the end you will walkaway knowing more than you did before. I have never had someone completely reject me. If you can make contact with them, they are going to say something about what you are asking.

You will have two types of witnesses. The ones who spill the beans of what they know or want you to think. And, the ones who avoid you. One good witness, who knows valuable information, is worth interviewing ten people to find them. An individual’s neighbors and friends, can be more forthcoming than expected in most cases. The key is not steamrolling them or badgering them into giving you information. Politeness and telling the person who you are and what your interest is goes a long way with most people (Telling them your interest is required). One witness can create an avalanche of knowledge on the alleged victim’s background. One thing is for certain, there always is a rat nearby. You just need to give the rat a chance to tell what they know. If you do not give this opportunity, they will not seek you out.

I could give countless stories about the rat coming out to talk when I showed up and asked. In one case, I got rejected at the door by a lady. I politely thanked her for her time and than gave her my business card. Five minutes later, the rat called me. The lady’s husband was more than wiling to speak with me and was aware of critical information. No digital alternative would have provide this information.

A background should be about people. So much occurs throughout a person’s life that will never land in some database or on the internet. This information, person to person, represents who a person really is and has been. If digital alternatives was the golden egg to an individual’s background, than why has the federal government totally failed with their mass digital surveillance? I am sure many naysayers would make a good argument against my opinion. However, just watch the news and all the tap dancing. People are whats important! They take shoe leather to access or at least a telephone call. When it comes to an alleged victim’s background, shoe leather produces the gold egg. Leave the digital alternatives where they should be, an investigative aid only!



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