This article was written by Yasmin Davis on behalf of the Legal Aid Society, CDP Training Unit.

The Taryn Blume indictment was remarkable.  As defenders,  we all have received or are familiar with a colleague getting a phone call from an ADA claiming that an investigator from our office knocked on a witness door and then, claiming to be from the district attorney’s office persuaded a witness to talk to them.  These accusations don’t usually get very far once we clarify with the ADA how defense investigators identify themselves, that an I.D. was shown, that a card was left behind and sometimes even that another investigator, intern or even attorney was present at the time.  Usually the ADA follows up with the witness and learns that what we have told them is in fact true.  The inquiry usually ends there.  Unfortunately, what should have ended with a routine inquiry was not the case in New Orleans.

Defenders everywhere should be concerned about what can be seen as nothing more than an attempt to chill the effects of zealous defense investigation by Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) office.  We will continue to knock on doors, follow up on investigative leads, and talk to witnesses regardless of prosecutorial scare tactics. 
We will continue to protect the constitutional right to a vigorous defense. 

We defenders at the Legal Aid Society, Criminal Defense Practice (CDP) will continue to train defense investigator on defense theories, the criminal justice system, and the ethical duties that go along with this work.  We will continue to be a part of national organizations doing public defense work like NAPD and NDIA, continue to send investigators to national investigator trainings and investigative institutes in Kentucky and Wisconsin focused on building strong relationships and teamwork between investigators and attorneys, and continue to co-sponsor our annual Public Defense Investigator training with the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA).  Our work as public defenders would not be possible without our investigative arm.    

The kind of gamesmanship displayed by the New Orleans D.A. is dangerous and should not be tolerated.  CDP sent an open letter to District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, Jr. urging him to dismiss the charges against Taryn Blume.  As many are aware, Taryn Blume was charged with impersonating a peace officer for simply doing her work as an investigator.  Heather Hall’s blog post last week outlined the facts of what happened to Taryn.

Defense investigators have challenging jobs and encounter many uphill battles throughout the course of performing their duties.  They don’t carry badges that might make someone talk to them or turn over evidence.  All defense investigators can relate to relying on their people skills and other training to speak to witnesses and obtain information for the benefit of their clients.  Unlike the prosecution’s investigative team, which consists of entire police departments with a great deal of man power and countless resources, defense investigators do not benefit from these luxuries.  Still defense investigators endeavor to do this work.  Some defense investigators come to this work from law enforcement backgrounds.  They understand what it’s like to do a fully funded investigation with the benefit of limitless resources.  Other defense investigators come to this work from different walks of life and bring other insights and perspectives. 

Every investigators brings unique assets to the work.  Despite differences, all investigators work to protect our clients’ individual rights.  Significantly, no matter how a defense investigator comes to this work, or what prior experience they bring, all defense investigators are trained in the art of defense investigation.  

Moreover, defense investigators are trained on the same ethical rules attorneys adhere to.  Attorneys, investigators, paralegals and other employees of the same firm are all bound by the same set of ethical rules.  The Ethical Rules state the following:

1.No misrepresentations (includes mis-identification)
2.Always tell the truth – no false statements
3.Clarify misunderstanding about your role  

In New York, these are the Rules of Professional Conduct – NYRPC 4.1 and 4.3 respectively.  Other jurisdictions have similar if not exactly the same rules.  Defense investigators around the country are trained to abide by these rules.

Because of this, we, the Legal Aid Society, Criminal Defense Practice stand with defense investigators everywhere – their role is critical to the effective representation of all our clients.