Criminal investigations are an essential part of any criminal case as it sets the field for any court case. The criminal investigations function appears to be a very popular element of policing. The media—television, movies, and news—tend to emphasize the investigative function of policing.
Two kinds of investigations will be looked here and they are the preliminary and follow-up investigation. A brief definition of what the investigation in question involves and then the errors during investigation will be looked at in-depth and how they can negatively affect the future of the case in general and the possible court case.
The preliminary investigation is the first investigation in any criminal case. The patrol officer, who in most cases is the respondent to the call for assistance, usually initiates this part of the investigation. The preliminary investigation begins the minute a patrol officer (or first responding officer) arrives on the scene.
Each department has procedures to follow during the preliminary investigation, there may be some subtle differences; however, the errors that can occur during the start of an investigation can have far-reaching effects as far as the future follow-up investigation and can have a negative effect on prosecution.
Errors Made in Preliminary Investigation
- Investigators not getting solid description of a suspect out and patrolling officers have no way of looking for any suspect. This can happen if the investigator puts out a description before getting enough of the facts to know what crime if any has occurred.
- Not interviewing all witnesses and not taking all the statements. An investigator has no way of knowing what information might seem insignificant but might be the key bit of information needed to solve the case.
- Rushing to arrest someone for the crime, if more than one person is arrested for the same crime, it puts the prosecution into jeopardy because the defense can sometimes bring all the wrongly accused people in front of a jury.
- Not getting the names and information of all witnesses, so a follow-up interview if needed can occur, interviews are easier when able to find the witness.
- Loss of a witness statement. In the preliminary investigation, all witness statements are needed so as much of the “full picture” of the crime can be seen by investigators.
- Not securing the crime scene in a timely manner. Of course, securing the area and safety comes first, but securing the crime scene as quick as possible can protect a lot of the evidence from being lost.
- Not turning over the investigation to the correct department in a timely manner. If the officer who handled the preliminary investigation gives the wrong division the case, that case could be lost and set aside to be sent to the correct department and possibly lost. In addition, if the officer does not file his report in a timely manner that case will be looked at when the case is near cold.
- Being rude the witnesses; that will shut down the communication fast.
Errors do not belong to the preliminary investigator alone. Often the preliminary investigator and the follow-up investigator would be the same person. Errors made in the follow-up investigation can be connected with errors made in the preliminary investigation or ones made all on their own.
- Not reading all witness statements before moving forward in the investigation. By reading the statements, an investigator can detect whether one of the witnesses was more than just a witness was, but somehow involved. Like did his or her statement match the majority of the other statements? This could mean this person is the only one telling the truth, so investigator needs to proceed with caution and not jump to concussions about the person’s statement not matching others.
- Jumping to concussions about what happened at a scene. Suspecting something and acting on it are two different things. An investigator should never assumed something is true without at least a probably cause to suspect it.
- Bias; an investigator should never believe one witness over another just because they are familiar with one witness more than he or she knows the other. Racial bias also should not be deployed as a reason to believe one person over the other.
- Not working with other investigators in a respectful way, if the follow-up investigator does not treat the preliminary investigator with a fair amount of respect communication will break down. The defense can use this to show communication breakdown in information and get his client off.
Errors are only human, but in the criminal justice system, they can mean the difference between a conviction and dismissal of the charges. Investigation when done correctly can almost eliminate all errors, but recognizing errors early can be key to correcting the error before it becomes a huge problem.
Most errors circle around the line of miscommunication. Communication is simply one party talking to another and when that line breaks down errors will occur. Miscommunication can ruin a marriage or parent-child relationships, so one can only imagine how it affects the pursuit of justice.