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Mark Murnan, CCDI, CLI
2018 Investigator/Philosopher Award Winner!
Nanette Cabral


A Comprehensive Approach to Conducting Criminal Defense Investigations

By Brandon A. Perron, CCDI, CFI-FTER


The need to standardize and develop an investigative philosophy and methodology specific to the discipline of criminal defense investigation has been the subject of much research and debate.  The answer to the problem was culminated by a joint effort between the public defender system and the private investigation profession.  The Component Method was developed to provide public defender investigators and private sector investigators with a formula for conducting successful and comprehensive criminal defense assignments.  The Component Method utilizes accepted and proven investigative procedure in an easy to follow format.  Each component of the investigation process is designed to uncover leads and develop questions leading to the next component.  The subsequent components support the investigator’s efforts to track leads and answer questions developed in previous components.  Utilization of the Component Method allows the criminal defense investigator to begin and end an investigation with the knowledge and confidence that an effective and professional investigation was completed.


The Component Method also performs well as a management tool.  Senior investigators maintaining supervisory roles, as well as the responsibility of a significant caseload, are able to utilize the system to monitor the progress of subordinates.  Historically, the problems associated with “passing the torch” of experience to entry-level criminal defense investigators has been a significant problem.  Adherence to a specific methodology allows the supervisor and field investigator to cultivate and pursue a team approach while still allowing for individual critical and creative thinking.  The Component Method provides a general course of action while conducting comprehensive assignments.  Utilizing this methodology provides an understanding between the supervisor and field investigator regarding expectations and the general course of inquiry. 


The six components of criminal defense investigation defining the Component Method are as follows;


 1. Investigative Case Review & Analysis

 2. The Defendant Interview

 3. Crime Scene Examination, Diagrams & Photography

 4. Victim/Witness Background Investigations

 5. Witness Interviews & Statements

 6. Report of Investigation & Testifying  


The Component Method also reinforces the investigator’s role as the primary investigator in control of the course of the investigation.  Utilization of resources such as forensic experts and specialists to support the primary investigator and his pursuit of the truth is also explored.  In addition, the investigator’s responsibility as a thinker and strategist is discussed on an intellectual as well as practical level.  The Component Method maintains that the investigator must assume a position as an impartial and objective advocate of the truth.  A position that requires discipline, integrity, and an unwavering sense of honor.  


The Component Method is intended to be a guide to assist the criminal defense investigator in the course of his investigation.  Utilizing the Component Method as a reference source for fundamental information, techniques, and skills will enable the criminal defense investigator to perform assigned tasks effectively and efficiently.  The Component Method can be utilized as a preliminary or comprehensive plan.  The individual components can be limited or expanded to conform to the specific needs of each case.  Proper execution of the Component Method will allow the criminal defense investigator to submit his final report with the confidence that a thorough investigation was accomplished.  The report of investigation documenting the criminal defense investigator’s findings will allow defense counsel to develop a defense strategy based upon facts and not abstract theory or conjecture.  Subsequently, defense counsel may request additional investigation based upon initial findings, investigative recommendations, or supplemental discovery.


The development of a philosophy and methodology for the discipline of criminal defense investigation elevates the profession to a level it deserves.  Failure to accept dedicated guidelines will only continue to maintain the discipline as a subordinate to law enforcement criminal investigation.  Criminal defense investigators must unite and declare themselves as specialists who maintain a philosophy as impartial and objective advocates of the truth.   The monumental responsibilities associated with the discipline demand no less.


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