• In Criminal Investigations, Objectivity Must be Maintained to Achieve Justice

  • There’s more to investigating than investigating. Anyone with a professional background in investigations has been trained on the fundamental aspects of investigating such as processing a crime scene, collecting evidence, interviewing a person of interest, and preparing a thorough and articulate report of their findings.

    These are tools of the trade common to the investigative industry. And they’re all certainly important aspects of an investigation, at least if the investigator wants their work to be done right. But no amount of procedural compliance or application of proper protocols can substitute for being aware of one’s own personal biases—and the influence they have on that one’s work–when investigating.

    Our Biases Distort our Interpretations of Things

    The investigator’s personal biases will have a significant effect on the investigation, from the beginning to the end. One’s state of mind directly influences their behavior.

    It follows that an investigator who is not aware of their own state of mind fails to appreciate the effect their mind state will inevitably have on their perception and behavior. This blind spot leads to a shortsighted investigation that will generate conclusions based more on the investigator’s idiosyncratic biases than objective facts and actual evidence, inevitably producing inaccurate and faulty results.

    This is a variation of the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine where here, instead of the tree representing tainted evidence, the poisonous tree is a misinterpretation, and thus misrepresentation, of the evidence. And if the evidence is misrepresented, the case conclusion—i.e., fruit of the tree–will also be inaccurate and misrepresentative of the actual situation.

    Misrepresented Work Leads to Unjust Results

    It certainly won’t facilitate justice if the investigator generates a report that fails to accurately and objectively capture the critical details of a case; a mistake that could lead to an innocent person getting convicted or a guilty person walking free. Regardless of whether one is innocent or guilty, the facts must bear out the truth. Anything less is injustice.

    Legal culpability for a crime requires the actus reus (guilty act) and the mens rea (guilty mind). However, for an investigator this shouldn’t matter nearly as much as ensuring that the investigation most accurately tells the story of the crime by answering the who-what-why-where-when-how of the crime as objectively as possible.

    Aren’t we, as investigators, supposed to be stewards of the truth? Shouldn’t our primary duty be to objectively ferret out the actual facts of a crime, or at least get as good an understanding of the crime as objectively possible, as opposed to prematurely convicting or acquitting a person in our minds before the investigation is even concluded?

    If we’ve already concluded the crime in our minds before we’ve completed the investigation of it, then the results are already hopelessly biased by this conclusion and no amount of investigating will change this. In doing this, the investigator has effectively compromised their objectivity thereby preventing an accurate investigation.

    The Critical Role of Investigators in the Criminal Justice System

    The investigator arguably has the most influential and critical role to play in the criminal justice system because the investigation provides the material over which attorneys subsequently argue and which judges and juries use to make life-changing decisions. It’s the investigator’s representation of the facts and evidence that are subsequently given to the masses to rend to pieces in all their righteous fury. It’s the facts of the investigation that subsequently influence the shaping of public policy.

    Leave public policy to the politicians. Leave social justice to the court of public opinion. Leave advocating for an individual’s innocence or guilt to the lawyers. Leave the judgment call to the judge or jury. Instead, focus on conducting an objective investigation as a preserver of truth.

    The investigator, unlike the attorney, the judge, or the jury, has no compelling reason to advocate for anything but the truth—which is accomplished through an objective investigation. Although there is certainly pressure to “pick a side” by various external forces, there is no ethical or legal obligation to do so. In order to preserve the integrity of the investigation, the investigator must resist bending to the pressures of special interest or politics. These are toxic to the truth.

    “There are no Facts, Only Interpretations”

    The law is surprisingly amenable to strong evidence that has been accurately represented in an objective way. Nevertheless, it’s not the evidence per se that decides guilt or innocence but the interpretation of it that’s a determinative factor. As Nietzsche said, “there are no facts, only interpretations.” All the more reason to ensure that the evidence the investigator initially presents is represented as accurately as possible to enable a more accurate interpretation of it later.

    One Small Part in the Criminal Justice Process, One Giant Part of Justice

    Ultimately, it’s not the adjudicative stage of the criminal justice process where justice is served but the investigative stage. Thus, because the facts and evidence from an investigation are what influences a decision to acquit or convict a person suspected of committing a crime, the investigator must ensure that the facts and evidence presented in their report are accurate and objective.

    It is not the job of the investigator to determine guilt or innocence. It is their job to investigate objectively, remaining self-aware of personal biases that could potentially taint their representation of the facts and evidence, in order to ensure that the result that comes from their investigation is a just result because it is based on an accurate representation of the actual situation.

    For the investigators who actually care about finding the “truth” of a matter, although we can’t ever know the absolute truth in pure form, we can, through our objectivity in investigating, produce more accurate results than not. In the words of Norman Vincent Peale, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

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