How to Investigate a Juvenile Criminal Case

Juvenile Justice Court There is no more important task for the criminal defense lawyer than conducting his o her own thorough investigation of the facts and the evidence that the DA believes supports the state of Colorado’s case. This article gives some guidelines of what the lawyer should be doing.

Juvenile Criminal Investigation in Colorado

It is Colorado juvenile criminal defense lawyer’s responsibility to conduct a prompt investigation of the evidence relevant to each element of the offense charged. This duty exists regardless of a client’s admissions, statements, or stated desire to admit responsibility.

While a criminal defense lawyer’s initial client interview and discovery are excellent sources of information, the lawyer’s own investigation may be the best method of collecting information about the case. The lawyer’s working theory of the case should dictate lawyer’s investigative priorities.

The Juvenile Defendant’s “Working Theory”

The working theory must analyze potential defenses, and search for evidence to demonstrate whatever the lawyer may need to prove. However, the theory of the case to should never curtail the lawyer’s initiative or prevent the defense lawyer from pursuing other potentially promising avenues of investigation.

Basic Procedures in the Investigation

Thorough investigation is key to zealous advocacy. Here are some general tips.

The Lawyer Should Start as Soon as Possible

The sooner the lawyer initiates the investigation, the more likely it is that witnesses will remember important events, that evidence will be available, and that there will be enough time to receive responses to any discovery requests the defense lawyer may make. Armed with more information, the lawyer will be in a better position to influence the outcome of the case.

The Lawyer Should Conduct as Much of the Investigation in person, as Possible

Face-to-face contact makes it more difficult for witnesses to avoid giving information and for record-keepers to delay producing documents. The lawyer or the lawyer’s investigator may also be able to develop a rapport with the witness or person providing information, which may lead to more helpful insights into Colorado juvenile criminal defense lawyer case.

The best way to assess the demeanor and mannerisms of a potential witness is to meet him in person.

The Lawyer Should Always Have an Investigative Partner

The criminal defense lawyer should always be accompanied by an investigator or another competent adult, so that the lawyer will have a witness who can testify later about information learned in investigation.

Basic Investigation Tools – Creating an Investigative Chart

The lawyer should create one chart to keep track of every piece of information or evidence and another to keep track of potential witnesses as the defense lawyer identifies them. The investigation chart can include categories for the information the lawyer needs to demonstrate, what evidence or testimony is needed.

As the defense lawyer progresses toward collecting that evidence or finding a witness to testify, the chart grows in complexity.

A thorough review of the police report, warrant, and other basic documents with the juvenile is an excellent way of obtaining information regarding the scene, victim, respondents, and witnesses. The juvenile should diagram the scene, showing the location and movement of all parties and witnesses during the event.

Interviewing the Parents, Then the Juvenile, Again

The lawyer should next talk to the parent separately about the juvenile’s initial account of the alleged offense to catch any inconsistencies or revised memories of the event. Then the lawyer should talk to the juvenile about any confusion or concern about his statements to the lawyer.

The lawyer must make clear, though, that he has the lawyer’s permission to revise his earlier version of the facts if he needs to, so the criminal defense lawyer will know the whole truth.

The defense lawyer does not want to encourage him to alter her story to please the lawyer, but to reveal or correct details he did not explain well before. It is simply unrealistic to expect that all juveniles will be honest and forthright before the lawyer has earned their trust. The lawyer should remind each juvenile of the confidentiality of the communications and explain that there are many different ways to mount a successful defense and then discuss how misinformation will waste time and very likely work against the client when the information is refuted at plea negotiation or in court. The lawyer should also explain to the juvenile the grounds for potential defenses, so she can understand why it is important to share everything she remembers and to find witnesses or other information.

The Lawyer Should Interview All Potential Defense Witnesses

The lawyer should contact anyone who could be a favorable witness and arrange for the lawyer or the lawyer’s investigator to meet him in person.

The Lawyer Should Make a Witness Chart

The lawyer should review the prosecution’s potential witnesses and make note of what the lawyer has found out about each one, what further investigation is necessary to be prepared for cross examination (remember that the exprienced Colorado juvenile criminal defense lawyer should know the answers to any questions the DA may ask), and how the lawyer can attack the witness’s testimony.

The Defense Lawyer Should Look Into the Client’s Court History

The lawyer should retrieve the juvenile’s court record(s) and all accompanying files from the relevant court(s) with which he has had contact, including abuse/neglect. If the juvenile has a past delinquency case in which this lawyer did not represent her, the new lawyer contact his former attorney to see what additional information the lawyer can obtain. Records from other courts will suggest issues to explore and potential witnesses to interview and may have reports and/or evaluations about Colorado juvenile criminal defense lawyer client.

The Defense Lawyer Should Look Into the Client’s Social History

The juvenile defense lawyer should obtain school, medical, mental health, employment, and other records, as well as information about community involvement, such as participation in sports teams or other after-school activities and then gain access to transcripts of any past school disciplinary proceedings or other administrative hearings.

This information may be useful at trial as direct or rebuttal evidence, but it may also be foundational information for a disposition plan. The lawyer’s job is to prepare simultaneously to win and lose—always looking forward to a potential disposition hearing no matter how strong a defense the lawyer may have to the charges.

The Defense Lawyer Should Visit the Crime Scene

There is much to a lawyer can learn from visiting the location where the alleged offense took place. The attorney should think about how the event unfolded, what witnesses could see from their respective viewpoints, what impact the time of day or weather might have had on visibility, and other aspects of reliability.

The attorney should take pictures, measure distances, and make diagrams to help the juvenile criminal defense lawyer and the judge or jury understand the scene. The lawyer may also want to return to the scene later with the juvenile or other witnesses, so the lawyer can re-enact the events together.

The Lawyer Should Collect Physical Evidence and Other Relevant Information

The Attorney should collect any relevant physical evidence, if possible, keeping in mind what potential evidence may have already been lost, moved, altered, or destroyed.

Cross examination is often based on inalterable geographic facts tells the witness that the lawyer knows what he is talking about and is on firm ground. This may make the witness less willing to disagree with the lawyer in more crucial areas of the cross examination.

If resources permit – the attorney should retain forensic experts to do analysis of evidence In addition to finding out about the prosecutor’s forensic experts. The defense may conduct the same tests as the prosecutor’s (if the lawyer has reason to question the prosecutor’s expert’s results) or any other tests, the results of which might benefit the defense case through the use of evidence such as, ballistics, handwriting, or DNA samples.

Hiding Your Defense From the Prosecution

As with mental health and competency evaluations, the lawyer should try to prevent the prosecutor from learning about any expert analysis requested until the lawyer knows that it is favorable to the defense.

Although it may be difficult to keep expert analysis of physical evidence confidential, the attorney does not want to tip off the prosecutor to the defense strategy or unintentionally give him access to work-product analysis.

The Lawyer Should Attempt to Interview Adverse Witnesses

The lawyer should attempt to interview adverse witnesses to get information that will help the lawyer’s investigation or that can be used for impeachment. Unless the lawyer is fairly certain that a witness will talk the wise defense lawyer probably will want to drop by to conduct an interview rather than calling ahead. Many people find it harder to close a door on someone than to hang up the phone.

If an adverse witness refuses to talk to the defense lawyer at the request of the prosecutor, the attorney may have evidence of a discovery violation by the State. Some adverse witnesses will refuse to talk to the defense without the prosecutor being present. The prosecutor may even instruct witnesses to tell the juvenile criminal defense lawyer that they want him present at an interview.

If the witness is permitted to request the presence of the prosecutor, the lawyer should reconsider the necessity of the interview. If the decision is made to follow through, the lawyer should make sure that schedule conflicts or other actions on the part of the prosecutor do not effectively deny the defense access to the witness. Even significant delay of an interview could arguably be denial of access if it limits the criminal defense lawyer ability to prepare case strategy in a timely manner.

If an adverse witness agrees to talk to the defense lawyer, he should try to learn what testimony he expects to be asked to present in order to gain information about the prosecution’s case and collect material for impeachment during adjudication.

If the witness will let lawyer, he or his investigator may want to take a video and or written statement from him. (But the lawyer should weigh the value of having documentation of the statements against the possibility that any witness statements are discoverable by the prosecution.)

If the lawyer does choose to take a statement, he should write down what the witness says and then ask that he review what the lawyer has written, initial each page, and sign the document to confirm the accuracy of the statement.

The Lawyer Should Interview the Police Officers

The lawyer should make an effort to interview the police officers involved in the case. Although they may be hesitant to speak with members of the defense team, they are invaluable to the defense investigation.

If an officer is avoiding the criminal defense lawyer and not returning calls, the lawyer should wait for him at the station when he is due to come on shift or call his supervisor or the prosecutor and ask that the officer be instructed to cooperate with Colorado juvenile criminal defense lawyer.

If the lawyer knows that any of the witnesses the lawyer wants to interview are represented by counsel, he needs to be careful. Ethical rules bar attorneys from communicating with represented parties about the subject of representation unless the other attorney consents or the communication is authorized by law or court order.

Some Key Investigative Resources

Some places to look for information that could help the juvenile criminal defense lawyer case are listed below.

Record collection and information gathering can take far longer than the lawyer might anticipate, so the requests for these materials as early as possible.

The Police Departments

Police departments usually have a central office that handles subpoenas for officers and records. The lawyer should know the names of the documents used by the police in the lawyer’s jurisdiction, so he can ask for them correctly. Because the police and prosecution work very closely, any information he requests of the police will probably also be provided to the prosecution.

Information likely to be in the possession of the police department includes:

  • Police manuals or other internal police procedure memos or guides;
  • Police reports;
  • Line-up photographs;
  • Mug shot and color arrest photos;
  • Tapes or transcripts of 911 calls and radio runs;
  • Physical evidence for testing and examination;
  • Crime records, sometimes kept by street address;
  • “Stop Check” or “Station Adjustment” information (when a person is stopped and warned by the police without being officially charged with any misconduct);
  • Information about special police officers and private security guards; and
  • Complaints or internal affairs investigations against a particular police officer.
Juvenile Justice Records

These should include:

  • Prior placement information, if the juvenile has been previously committed; and
  • Probation records and notes.
The Courts

As noted above, there are a number of different records the lawyer can access through the courts:

  • Criminal records. Criminal records (for both clients and witnesses) include plea agreements and probable cause determinations.
  • Juvenile records. Juvenile records remain confidential in most jurisdictions. Learn the local rules for obtaining the current record of a child witness and, if possible, any relevant past juvenile record of an adult witness. Colorado juvenile criminal defense lawyer may only be able to see them with a court order.
  • Family court records. Obtain records of any related family court/dependency proceeding(s). These may include reports or clinical evaluations helpful to explain some of Colorado juvenile criminal defense lawyer client’s background and may reveal a history of abuse or neglect.
  • Civil records. Records regarding domestic relations, home ownership, landlord-tenant cases, civil protection orders, and other matters.
  • Warrant information. Are there any outstanding warrants for Colorado juvenile criminal defense lawyer client?
Telephone and Other Communication Records

The procedures for obtaining communication records, whether telephone, mobile phone, or email, depend to a great degree on the content of the record. In general, the content of stored electronic communications, such as e-mail texts or recorded voice mail, is protected by privacy laws. If, however, the juvenile is the originator or an intended recipient of the communication, the lawyer may be able to access this content with the juvenile’s consent.

More basic communication records, such as customer information, date, time, and number called or e-mail sender and recipient may be provided by the telecommunication company or internet service provider upon request. In practice, however, access to these records will usually require a court order. They may also be available from the prosecutor as Brady (exculpatory – innocence supporting material).

Internet Sources

Considering the transient nature of the Internet, the following web addresses may change. Often, starting with a general search engine, such as Google, is helpful. Other useful information and website include:

Medical/Psychological InformationGeneral Investigative Information National Association of Investigator ServicesOther Public Records and General Information
  • Information from City Hall, such as street maps, property records, aerial photographs, building plans, or construction projects.
  • Information from Colorado juvenile criminal defense lawyer local Department of Public Works, including luminosity tests, power/street light information, road repairs, and tree foliage on a certain date.
  • Information from local utility companies, such as whether or not a certain residence had its power or energy turned off.
  • Information from the fire department, including ambulance and firefighter call information.
  • Information from local homeless shelters, soup kitchens, drop-in centers, clothing distributors, health clinics, and other service providers for the homeless.
  • Climatological data for establishing the weather conditions on the day of the alleged incident can be retrieved from the National Climatic Data Center at
Military Records

To obtain military records, Colorado juvenile criminal defense lawyer will need to send a signed release or subpoena together with the social security number, name, and approximate dates of service to the National Personnel Records Center.

Contact information and details are available at:

Please Call Us If you Have Questions About Colorado Juvenile Criminal Investigations

H. Michael Steinberg has been a Colorado criminal law specialist attorney for 38 years. For the First 13 years of his career, he was an Arapahoe – Douglas County District Attorney Senior prosecutor. In 1999 he formed his own law firm for the defense of Colorado criminal cases.

In addition to handling tens of thousands of cases in the trial courts of Colorado, he has written hundreds of articles regarding the practice of Colorado criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on the Fox News Channel, CNN and Various National and Local Newspapers and Radio Stations. Please call him at your convenience at 720-220-2277

If you have questions about Colorado Juvenile Criminal Investigations in the Denver metropolitan area and throughout Colorado, attorney H. Michael Steinberg will be pleased to answer those questions and to provides quality legal representation to those charged in Colorado adult and juvenile criminal matters.

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