Criminal Law

Second opinion in criminal cases can help the accused

By Staff

A second set of trained eyes on a criminal investigation can boost a defendant’s case, says Toronto-area private detective Jim Downs.

Downs, founding partner and managing director of MKD International Inc., says he’s often called in by defence counsel to review the work of police in cases involving serious charges such as murder or sexual assault.

“It will all depend on the nature of the matter and the objectives of counsel, but usually we will start with a review of the disclosure material,” he explains. “We’re looking to see if anything was overlooked by police, or potential leads to follow that may assist legal counsel.”

That will often mean tracking down and interviewing witnesses not pursued — or not found — by law enforcement.

As a retired Toronto detective, Downs says he knows only too well how stretched police resources are across the country, limiting the time and effort officers can put into certain cases.

Still, he warns counsel that, like any good investigator, he will be led by the evidence.

“We don’t gear our investigation toward any particular outcome or operate in a biased manner,” Downs says. “Sometimes we get information that assists the accused, and sometimes we don’t. I always tell counsel that I’m going to give them everything I find — the good, the bad and the ugly.”

Downs says MKD, the only firm of its size in Canada comprised entirely of former police officers, is also able to provide defence counsel with access to a wealth of law enforcement expertise.

In one recent dangerous-driving case, MKD utilized an accident reconstructionist who had performed the task for many years as a police officer. The reconstructionist was able to refute the evidence of a serving officer who had concluded the accused was at fault for a crash that left another individual seriously injured.

“The experienced reconstructionist we brought in pointed out the clear flaws in the officer’s theory, and the charge was thrown out — rightfully so in my view,” Downs says.

The firm is also increasingly retained in cases of sexual assault, says Downs, who explains that investigating officers have much less discretion now when deciding whether to lay charges following a complaint. As a result, more cases tend to advance further through the criminal justice system.

“Unless a complainant recants during the initial investigation, police are always going to lay the charge and let the courts decide,” Downs says. “We are called in by counsel to investigate all types of cases. We’ll dig into the pasts of people, to determine if there is a history of filing complaints. Sometimes what we find is of no help, but other times it can assist legal counsel.”

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