Capable defense attorneys know that establishing a time line of events is a well-established means of confirming and exploring the sequence of events before, during and after an alleged crime. And time lines become even more critical when “cold case” squads make an arrest based on newly uncovered evidence, or when sexual abuse allegations are made many years after the alleged offense occurred.
According to Brandon Perron, “A time line of major events will provide a reference tool clearly defining the relationship of specific activity and events with other evidence and witness testimony.”
For the purposes of this article, let’s examine the work necessary to establish a defendant’s activities and schedule many years prior, when an alleged victim claims he or she was sexually abused.
First, a comprehensive client interview is conducted with the client, to establish a basic understanding of where he lived, who he worked for, who he lived with, and what his work schedule was. This can be extremely difficult in some cases, where the client and/or the alleged victim were transient, moving from location to location in response to financial difficulties or fluid work situations. Oftentimes, the client has only a vague recollection of addresses or street names, former employers, or even the names of old girlfriends or relatives. Next, several release of information forms should be obtained. These releases will be mailed, faxed, or scanned to former employers in all the locations the client was employed.
The preliminary time line will be determined during the initial client interview, then filled in as the investigation develops. The first step is confirming the dates and location or locations where the alleged abuse occurred from the charging documents and probable cause affidavit. For instance, the alleged victim may claim the abuse occurred when she was a young teenager or a “tween” at a house on Redmond Avenue between September 1998 and January 1999.
A proprietary database can be used to establish an “address history” for the defendant during the years preceding and following the time alleged in the information. For our example, the database report may reflect that the defendant and victim resided at Redmond Avenue from August 1996 through September 1999. These address histories with corresponding dates are non-specific, however, since databases are not in the business of verifying dates of occupancy. Instead, they should be used as a general guideline for time frames.
If the client was a renter, the ownership of the residence needs to be established. This process is easier with single-family homes or duplexes, much more difficult with large apartment complexes with corporate ownership. With our case study, the investigator might discover that the owner of the address on Redmond Avenue during the time frame outlined in the charging documents sold the property in 2003. The former owner needs to be located and contacted to confirm the dates the client and alleged victim lived at the rental property. For our case study, the owner confirmed that the client and his family resided at the address, but only from June 1995 through June 1996. He described the house as a two-bedroom duplex rather than the single family home the victim described in the affidavit. He provided a forwarding address for the defendant to an address on Oak Terrace, a single family residence just a few blocks away.
For employers, identifying a client’s work history often lies in the application for employment provided to the most recent employer. With this document as a base line, the investigator or attorney can reconstruct the list of former employers by simply proceeding back in time from the most recent application to the one prior. Unless the client has been working for cash, most employers will maintain employment records for some time, either in storage or on a computerized database. W2s or W4s and 1099s also provide time frames of employment. The work history may establish that the defendant worked a second job during the evenings when the alleged abuse supposedly occurred.
In one recent case, investigation revealed that the defendant had been seriously injured at work during the time frame provided in the charging document. This injury would have precluded the defendant from committing the offense charged as described by the alleged victim. State workers compensation records confirmed the date and nature of the injury, even though the treating physician had since destroyed the aged records of treatment.
Finally, the investigator or attorney needs to put the dates, locations and events into chronological order for presentation to the prosecutor or the jury, or for the alleged victim for deposition. A spreadsheet keyed to documentary exhibits is sufficient for this purpose, although a PowerPoint™ presentation is a very powerful trial exhibit.
In our case study, a defense attorney would be able to establish that the victim was wrong in her recollection of where the alleged abuse occurred; she was wrong when she claimed that the client abused her during the evenings when he was actually at work; and that the client was in a foot-to-thigh cast for several of the months when the abuse was supposed to have occurred. This is an example of how effective a time line can be in persuading either a prosecutor or a jury that reasonable doubt exists.
Contact the investigators and researchers at Complete Legal Investigations to assist you in preparing and documenting a time line that works. You can reach us by calling us at 561-687-8381, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.