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Can criminal defense attorneys investigate murders?

Los Angeles, CA |

Like once a criminal defense attorney is hired how would he gather information about the case? I know the police has to share their finding, but how would the attorney go about finding their own stuff?

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Attorney answers 5


I agree very much with what Scott Vallens, Esq., has said about this question. I am an attorney and a licensed private investigator.

For a homicide case, it is crucial that the handling attorney use a PI for every aspect of the evidence to be developed for the case.

The PI will be responsible for locating witnesses, obtaining their statements and potentially ensuring their presence at the Preliminary Hearing or Trial.

Again, in a homicide case, a PI is absolutely essential. So essential in fact, that the court will appoint a PI to work with the defense attorney, if the defendant is indigent.

Tim Liebaert, Esq.


It is defense counsel's duty and job to investigate every aspect of the case. The more he or she knows about the case, the more adept he or she will be better able to service and advise the client and fight the charges. Yet defense counsel should have or use an investigator to conduct the investigation because the lawyer typically should not do it on his or her own.

The above answer is for general information only. It is not "legal advise" but analysis, and different lawyers may analyze this matter differently, especially if there are additional facts not reflected in the question. I am not your attorney until retained by a written retainer agreement signed by both of us. I am only licensed in California. See also terms and conditions item 9, incorporated as if it was reprinted here.



Why can't the attorney do it on his or her own?

David Alexander Russomanno

David Alexander Russomanno


There are certain things that an attorney can investigate on his or her own. But when interviewing a witness or investigating a crime scene it is better to have an investigator because it is likely the attorney may want or need someone to testify as to what was said or seen. If the attorney needed to testify, he or she would have a major problem...

Robert Lee Marshall

Robert Lee Marshall


Mr. Russomanno is correct. The California Supreme Court has said it's incompetence if an attorney talks to witnesses in a serious criminal case without an investigator to document the conversation. Even a witness who seems helpful to the defense can tell a different story at trial. Without an investigator who can testify about what the witness said previously, you could lose valuable evidence at trial.


Attorneys gather information. Typical methods include discovery, as you have noted, plus FOIA (Freedom of Informatiion Requests) and (depending on the case) independant analysis of lab results, psych reports, etc. Research of the law, including statutes, jury instructions, and case law. Investigation of new facts and witness interviews via a PI Private Investigator. Interview and preparation of defense witnesses and interview for cross of prosecution witnesses, where possible. Detailed re-interview and case review of the defendant, inluding case review by colleagues. Much is often initially hidden in the mind of the defendant, and can be explored by case walk-throughs.

We do not have a client/attorney relationship until you make an appointment, we discuss your case face to face, I accept a retainer, and we explictly agree to enter into representation.


A lawyer would be entitled to all discovery on the case, including police reports, witness statements, forensic evidence, test results, and any evidence the prosection has in its possession regarding the case. Additionally a lawyer can have his own investigators conducting investigation to locate evidence, witnesses, etc. A lawyer can also subpeona documents, retain experts to conduct tests on evidence, and many other methods to find possible favorable evidence.

Law Offices of David M. Boertje 402 W. Broadway, Suite 950 San Diego, CA 92101 (619) 229-1870 *Please note that this is not legal advice and in no way formed an attorney-client relationship*


Any veteran criminal defense attorney knows that investigation in a criminal case should come through a licensed private investigator. The reason for this is simple. An investigator could be called to tesify if needed. A defense attorney cannot. If you can't afford the services of a private investigator, often one can be appointed by order of the court.

Jeffrey Vallens
(888) 764-4340 (818) 783-5700

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