An investigator for the public defender's office assists the public defender by gathering information, reviewing evidence and interviewing witnesses pertaining mostly to felony cases. Public defender investigators conduct field investigations, as well as personal background investigations, on different parties involved in each case, including defendants, plaintiffs and witnesses. They are instrumental in preparing cases for trial by reviewing documents, organizing data files and deposing witnesses on behalf of the public defender.
Investigators with the public defender's office must have excellent interpersonal communication skills and a knack for gaining information from human sources, including witnesses, defendants, law enforcement personnel and victims. They must also be highly organized and attentive to details to properly keep track of and analyze case files, crime scene evidence, police reports, financial records and others items. A thorough knowledge of court and jurisdiction related laws, statutes and operating procedures is also key to a public defender investigator's success.
Public defender investigators mainly conduct, or assist in conducting, investigations from both within the office and out in the field. They gather evidence from crime scenes, witnesses, attorneys, police reports and forensic lab reports. Effective investigators collaborate regularly with attorneys, judges, law enforcement and witnesses to maintain up-to-date facts on each case. Another vital function for these investigators is locating suspects or witnesses through public database searches and other sources. Public defender investigators also utilize various classified computer databases, software and filing systems to prepare cases for trial.
In addition to their primary responsibilities, public defender investigators sometimes perform physical or administrative duties, such as transporting witnesses, suspects and victims to and from court and drafting incident reports surrounding each trial. They occasionally observe witness or suspect interrogations conducted by senior investigators or attorneys. Public defender investigators are sometimes called upon to offer expert testimony during trials as well.
To become a public defender investigator, you must possess at least a bachelor's degree in law enforcement, criminal justice, forensic science, pre-law or government or similar majors. Most public defenders' offices also require investigators to have one year or more of relevant court room, law office, police department or criminal investigative experience. Given the sensitive legal nature of investigative work, public defender investigators must be U.S. citizens able to pass criminal background investigations, as well as periodic drug tests.