Tired of sitting behind your desk reviewing depositions and briefs? Want a little excitement? Does the idea of stopping at a local Starbucks for your favorite beverage and taking a little field trip appeal to you? Then grab that file and call your investigator and go see the scene where your client was injured, or charged with a crime.
Most trial attorneys know the value of visiting the “event scene,” the location where the event occurred that sparked the litigation you’re involved with. But knowing the value of an action doesn’t always equate to taking the action. That’s why many lawyers instead send their investigators out to the scene to take photos and video, canvass the neighborhood, and prepare diagrams and charts. These exhibits can be powerful displays in hearings and at trial. Often, some fact from the scene can be disclosed or discerned by careful examination of the exhibits. Yet, nothing substitutes for walking the same ground or driving the same route your client did.
Last month, I had the opportunity to visit various scenes with two attorneys as we prepared for trial in federal court. The client was charged with several counts, including kidnapping, two shootings, and a homicide. We took a Saturday morning and afternoon to visit several locations where the purported events took place, met with key witnesses at their homes, and developed a much better idea of what the government’s case would consist of.
We actually walked the swale in front of a home where one of the shootings occurred. We meandered around an industrial area and tried to make contact with business tenants at another scene. We interviewed witnesses in their homes, saw where and how they lived, and received insights into their character, their credibility and their motives that we would otherwise have been unaware of.
Several years ago, I traveled to Pahokee with an attorney-client, and we walked through the area where our client was charged with shooting the victim. It was daylight and the streets were clear, but nevertheless, the attorney was able to grasp the depth of the poverty of the scene, and to emotionally connect with the location in a way she never could have by looking at some photographs.
This same client asked me to return to the area late at night, at the time the shooting occurred, and video tape the scene. This was an important factor, since the event occurred in the early morning hours, and she wanted to get some insight into the nightlife which created the circumstances leading to the event.
She did not accompany me on that trip, but I did take my tattooed biker brother in law with me for support (and cover). We secured a few minutes of blurry video before we were approached by several of the local residents. Then we returned to the comfortable suburbs of West Palm Beach, expressing gratitude for our comfy homes and quiet lives.
Visiting the scene puts you, the attorney, in touch with what your client experienced in those moments before and after the event. Afterward, when you depose or examine a witness, you are no longer just intellectually aware of the circumstances to which he is testifying; you’ve been there. Now you know how it looks, how it sounds, and how it felt. You have connected not just with the scene, but with the witness, with your client, and with the jury. You’ve “walked the walk,” so to speak, and it shows.
Before your next deposition with a critical witness, climb into the car with your investigator. You’ll benefit from his or her personal insights and experiences at the scene. You’ll enjoy getting a personal glimpse into the life of your client and the witnesses. You may discover something about the scene that causes that missing piece to fall into place and unlock a better verdict or settlement. Your client will appreciate your personal knowledge and effort. And you’ll be a better advocate as a result.
If you aren’t using a skilled investigator to assist you with your cases, call the experienced professionals at Complete Legal Investigations, Inc. We’ve worked South Florida since 1984, and we know all the right places! Give us a call at 561-687-8381.