Unless they must accept the state’s first plea bargain offer, which is usually the case if the defendant is in jail, attorneys always conduct investigations. Defense lawyers don’t have to “prove” the defendant was “innocent” or “clear his name.” Instead, they must only create a reasonable doubt.[1] So, what goes behind a criminal defense attorney investigation is outlined below.

The official definition of reasonable doubt isn’t very useful here. The term “sink and ink” is more descriptive. When an octopus is under pressure, it plunges into deep, dark water and muddies it to confuse whatever is threatening it. Likewise, a Rochester criminal defense lawyer sinks and inks when a defendant is distressed. Attorneys confuse jurors and create questions in their minds. This uncertainty is usually a reasonable doubt.

Witness Interviews

Testimonial evidence is usually the foundation of the state’s case. A Rochester criminal defense lawyer could investigate witness testimony formally or informally.

Formal Investigation

Many criminal cases, mostly possession matters and DUIs, are single-witness cases. The arresting officer saw the whole thing from start to finish. Police officers rarely informally discuss their testimony with Rochester criminal defense lawyers. Therefore, to obtain insight in this area, a lawyer must schedule a suppression hearing or, in a DUI, an administrative license revocation hearing.

Suppression hearings are very common in possession cases. Seized weapons, drugs, and other contraband are inadmissible in court unless officers have a valid search warrant or a narrow search warrant exception applied.

A probable cause affidavit must support a search warrant application. Common search warrant exceptions include an item in plain view and the owner’s voluntary consent.

In the witness interview context, the goal of a suppression hearing is not so much the suppression of evidence. Instead, a Rochester criminal defense lawyer requests this hearing so the arresting officer must testify on the record. Subsequent inconsistent statements significantly erode the officer’s credibility, even on relatively minor matters.

A DUI ALR hearing is a lot like a suppression hearing. An Administrative Law Judge decides if officers had probable cause to request a chemical sample. Even if the ALJ rules against the defendant, the officer testified on the record, so the hearing was a partial win.

Informal Investigation

A non-police officer testimony is required in property crime, assault, and fraud cases. Usually, the state cannot stop a Rochester criminal law attorney from speaking with these witnesses.

Informal witness investigations have two primary goals. First, an attorney must assess the witness’ testimony and determine its damage. Second, an attorney must look for ways to discredit the witness. Discrediting a witness in court is a delicate matter. If an attorney is too aggressive, jurors get angry.

Potential Witnesses

Usually, the names of arresting officers and complaining witnesses are public information. These people are easy to find. Additional witnesses investigators overlooked might be harder to find.

Friendly Witnesses

These witnesses present a different version of events than complaining witnesses and police officers. A different version of events doesn’t mean the other witnesses are lying. Our brains aren’t video cameras. We remember events selectively.

Assume Sarah says Peter sexually assaulted her at a party. Paul testifies that Peter and Sarah were at the party but never alone together. Paul’s testimony doesn’t “prove” Peter was not guilty. But it does undermine Sarah’s accusations.

Unfriendly Witnesses

Attorneys must also look into the testimony of an unfriendly witness, perhaps an “eyewitness” to a murder. If the eyewitness might have been biased or incorrect, that fact could prevent the state from proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Once again, a Rochester criminal defense lawyer need not “prove” the witness was “lying.” A defense lawyer must only create a reasonable doubt.

Circumstances of the Case

Now, a few final words about the circumstances of the case, such as scientific evidence and extenuating circumstances.

Fingerprint and DNA evidence is scientifically reliable. Most other “scientific” evidence, such as clothing fibers and blood stains, isn’t scientifically reliable. Additionally, a credible expert must usually authenticate this evidence in court.

Extenuating circumstances aren’t legal defenses. But they affect the way jurors view a defendant. Semi-coercion is a good example. Assume Frank knows a dark secret about Nancy, and Nancy knows he knows. If Frank convinced Nancy to transport drugs, there’s an implied “or else,” which could be an extenuating circumstance in Nancy’s favor.

Rely on a Dedicated Monroe County Attorney

A criminal defense attorney investigation often allows lawyers to create reasonable doubt. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Rochester, contact the Law Office of Frank Ciardi. Virtual, home, and jail visits are available.



[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/legal/reasonable%20doubt


The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.

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