Who among us in the private investigations industry has not, at some point, said these words?
You get a call from one of your defense attorneys, always good to hire you and quick to pay: “Hey, I have a case for you!”
You go through the normal gyrations, ensuring that there’s no inherent conflict of interest, you hammer out the financials, then you say, “Well Counselor, tell me about the case.”
As he describes his client’s predicament, you get that nauseous feeling; you suddenly find yourself craving a shower. Maybe it’s a sexual assault, or an animal cruelty case — or worst-case scenario, it’s a child sex case. Whatever it is, your very soul is screaming, “BUT I DON’T WANNA DO IT!!!”
When confronted with a case involving cruelty or depravity, it’s easy to forget the words inscribed over the West Pediment of the Supreme Court of the United States: “Equal Justice Under Law.” We may believe in this notion in the abstract, but the rubber meets the road when a facet of the case strikes a personal nerve.
When that nauseous feeling comes along, we start scrolling through the mental What If Checklist:
- What if my friends or family find out that I am working this case?
- What will this do to my reputation?
- What will my other attorney clients think about my taking this case?
- What if the guy did it?
These are understandable questions that we’ve all asked ourselves at some point. But in order for us to play our role in ensuring “equal justice,” there’s really only one question that matters:
Does this defendant deserve an honest and vigorous defense?
The answer is, of course, yes: every defendant deserves that, no matter what he may have done.
Now, let me preface this next statement with a word to the wise: There may be some cases that you just should not work. There are some situations that you should steer well clear of. If something about a case feels too close, too personal, or too emotionally fraught for you to summon your stores of objective distance, then you should probably pass.
However, we don’t have the latitude to refuse cases just because they make us uncomfortable. “But I don’t wanna do it!” is not a legitimate defense.
Before I became a PI, I worked in law enforcement. I put the bad guys away. As such, I had a bit of a personal and spiritual struggle with the idea of going to work for the “dark side.”
I disclosed this personal struggle with my potential employer, a very wise, ethical, and extremely capable investigator. What she told me next shaped my mindset from that point forward: “You misunderstand,” she smiled, choosing her words thoughtfully. “Our job is not to ‘get someone off.’ Our job is to dig up the facts, whatever they may be, and present them to the attorney. He needs to know the good and the bad.”
This made sense to me.
I’ve carried her words with me on every case since then.
The Test Case
It wasn’t long before this idea was put to the test. It was a sexual assault case. The lawyer was a firm believer in his client’s innocence. My partner and I met with the client at the local jail. He was a storyteller, and a good one — very convincing and precise with details. A little too precise for his own good — he’d armed us with lots of specifics we could check. We hit the ground running and, piece by piece, completely dismantled his wonderfully-crafted story.
The guy did it. Of that, we were reasonably sure. Our next step was to dash the hopes and dreams of his attorney. “I need y’all to go with me to see him,” he told us. We did.
The lawyer explained to his client that he no longer had a viable defense for him and advised him to take the plea deal that was offered. To bolster this argument, the attorney then invited us to reveal the findings of our investigation. All of them.
The client was not pleased to hear about these findings. But he was swayed by the force of them and decided to take his attorney’s advice.
He is currently a long-term guest of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Here is the long and the short of it: We have a job to do. Sometimes it requires us to deal with horrific situations and despicable people. But our job is to enter each phase of the investigation objectively, without preconceptions, and gather and report the facts.
And when we do our jobs properly, we play an important role in helping to keep America’s promise of “Equal Justice Under the Law.” Ultimately, that’s exactly what I want to do.
About the author:
Clay A. Kahler, B.A., M.Rs, M.A., Ph.D. brings an extensive background of military police and civilian law enforcement experience. He has earned degrees in Biblical Studies and Theology. He is an author, instructor, professor, lecturer and pastor. Clay also holds OSHA certifications in “Basic Accident Investigation” and “Effective Accident Investigation” as well as numerous certifications from the Federal Emergency Management Administration.