Aerial view of DC

Ode to My Investigator

Jamison KoehlerInvestigations, Juveniles


I botched the investigation.

I went to the store on Upper Wisconsin Avenue in which my client was alleged to have committed a robbery.  While there, I neglected to look for a critical piece of evidence:  whether or not there was a surveillance camera over the cash register.  As a result, my investigator Wayne Marshall had to go back to the store to do the investigation right. I miss things that to him are second nature.

Marshall and I have been working together now for less than a year, mostly on court-appointed juvenile cases.  Both of us are relatively new to the area. Marshall gave up a career as a New York police officer after being shot twice in the chest. He drove himself to the hospital.  The triage nurse, busy with some paperwork, told him to take a seat in the waiting area.  “Just a moment, sweetheart,” she told him.  “I’ll be right with you.” He still carries around two bullets in his chest.

I am jealous of the time he devotes to other lawyers’ cases and I know that I can sometimes be difficult to work with.  I fret.  I send him late night text messages and emails that increase with frequency as the trial date approaches.  Fortunately, he too is an early morning person and we have often communicated several times before sunrise. That’s okay, he told me the other day when I apologized for my micro-management.  You keep me on my toes.

Marshall is a chameleon.  He is just as at home in the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia as he is on the streets of the District.  Yet it is his entrée into the lower-income homes on the east side of the Anacostia River that I value the most.  Many of the families there don’t quite know how to deal with an uptight middle-aged man from across town who still doesn’t know how to dress down.  With life pouring out into the street from row houses, and doors always open, their world is as unfamiliar to me as the green expanse of my world is to them.

Although the families and I will come to know each other very well by the time the case concludes, the first visit to a client’s home is often uncomfortable for both parties.  I will have already met the client and family at the initial hearing at which I was appointed.  But that meeting is brief and harried, done moments before we go before the judge.  The parents are angry and upset, and the child has just spent the night in custody.  When I walk over to the cell-block to introduce myself before the hearing, I am just one more person who will prod the child with questions.

The first time I visited a client at his home, I made the mistake of going into the home before Marshall had arrived.  The son and I sat on an overstuffed couch in the living room while the mother cooked bacon and eggs in the kitchen next door, all the while trying to keep an ear out on our conversation.  Then Marshall arrived, and the mother breathed a sigh of relief.  Thank God, she said.  I didn’t realize we had a brother working with us.

Marshall and I stick out a little bit more when I accompany him to the alleged crime scene.  We usually bring the client along with us if the child is not being held in secure detention, and the ride there is a good way to get to know the client in a more relaxed setting.  We discuss football and school.  Although Marshall and I do most of the talking, you can see the first signs of the client beginning to open up.  Our relationship with the client will be very different at the next court listing.

Marshall assures me I do not cramp his style during the crime scene investigations. “Not at all, Mr. Koehler,” he says when I first bring this up.  We always address each other formally while in the presence of clients.  It is an affectation he may have gotten from me.  “You give me credibility.  Otherwise I am just a guy with a camera.”

Like the work of a criminal defense lawyer, much of what an investigator does never sees the light of day.  You work and you work and, if the client eventually takes a plea, it is as if the work was never done at all.  You mark the file closed and put it into your filing cabinet.  It is like draining a bathtub so that you can refill it with something new.

But then there are the cases in which it all comes together on the day of trial.  Last week I watched Marshall, dressed in a shirt and tie because we thought he might be testifying, coming down the court hallway with two of our witnesses, and I breathed a sigh of relief for the first time in a couple of days.  Because you never know if the witnesses will actually come.  When I saw Marshall with the witnesses, I knew we would be ready.  So did he.