January 2019
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The Indiana winter has arrived with a fury, which finds the team at Trace Investigations looking forward to spring events on the horizon. Trace Investigations will be attending and exhibiting at the spring training and conference of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association and the annual conference of the Society for Human Resource Management of Northwest Indiana.

"As Judge Taylor banged his gavel, Mr. Ewell was sitting smugly in the witness chair, surveying his handiwork. With one phrase he had turned happy picnickers into a sulky, tense, murmuring crowd ..." 

To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 17


We are grateful to have the opportunity to provide you this valuable information. We take special care to ensure the information we provide you in "Tracings" is the latest and most current information available. In this edition, we address the issue of bias and how it must be addressed, not only in our work but in our personal lives.
 
The goal of this e-newsletter is to provide you with critical information that will help you prevail in your business affairs wherever fact finding is an essential component. We will share what we have learned in our 30+ years as professional investigators and intelligence analysts.

We want to write about topics that will assist you in succeeding in your business endeavors. Please e-mail us your topics of interest to tracings@traceinvestigations.com.
 
We encourage you to share our e-newsletter with others in your sphere of influence.  
 
Sincerely,
The Trace Team

The start of a new year is always a good time to review the techniques, tools, policies and procedures we use in our investigations. And this year as always our focus must always be on the best evidence, whether we are working a personal injury or criminal defense case, or assisting counsel in a family law or business matter. Black's Law Dictionary defines best evidence, in part, as "Evidence of the highest quality available, as measured by the nature of the case rather than the thing being offered as evidence."[1] Of course, the rules of evidence expand in detail on the definition of best evidence or primary evidence,[2] and I have always cautioned my investigative team that whatever you present in a report to a client, it must survive the scrutiny of a trier of fact, whether that is a judge or a jury. Hearsay testimony does not pass the test, nor does the copy of a critical document in a case, when the original is available.

We might add to that list of the inadmissible a personal bias. Black's has a lot to say about bias and its incarnations: actual, advocate's, implied, judicial.[3] During an investigation we have to be aware of not only what our own bias might be on a particular matter, but what bias a witness might bring to a case. We must always mitigate our own bias and any prejudice against a witness or other party in a case, addressing only the evidentiary value of what has been brought forth in the case and evaluating the credibility of a party from an objective perspective, including any signs of bias or prejudice that is being exhibited.

The topic of bias has been on my mind the last few days, after reading a newsletter published by a valued acquaintance who hails from the journalism profession, Kyle Niederpruem, who now operates Kyle Communications, offering a wide range of public relations services, including crisis management. Kyle was a reporter for the Indianapolis Star when we met in the 1990s and she was president of the Society of Professional Journalists. Investigative reporters and professional investigators have a lot in common, except in where our work product is directed, of course. Kyle's newsletter this month is titled, "Journalism Today - What is Bias?" You can learn more and subscribe at her web site . Here are some highlights from her article on bias that are as relevant to the investigative profession as they are journalism:

"... Identity politics, political correctness, bias and ethics are discussed more now than ever before. And that's a good thing. Putting the practice of journalism under the microscope is healthy - as long as it's done fairly. In epidemiology, reporting bias is defined as "selective revealing or suppression of information" by subjects (for example about past medical history). In artificial intelligence research, the term reporting bias is used to refer to people's tendency to under-report all the information available." 

She goes on to discuss "basic and best tenets" of practice that not everyone follows, but which every journalist and investigator should, at all times:
  • Assume nothing is true. Go directly to the source. Don't rely even on official paperwork - as it is also sometimes wrong.
  • Be systematic in authentication. And:
  • What are my points of ignorance going in that I need to note? 
You cannot un-ring the bell of bias. Once it's displayed, whether in a public conversation, a social media posting or in a courtroom, it's out there, in essence, forever. The court of public opinion is quick to convict and slow to forgive. And in the civil or criminal courts in which professional investigators interact, a personal bias is a bell best never rung. Unless you have the evidence to expose the bias of an adverse witness or a juror during voir dire. That's necessary. Kyle closes her column by noting:

"Bias is a tricky word. Like ethics, surprisingly, it means different things to different people. And no amount of Merriam-Webster definitions will change the direction of your own internal compass."
 
For an unbiased investigation, call Trace Investigations at (812) 334-8857.


[1]a Black's Law Dictionary, Ninth Edition, Thomson Reuters 2009, page 635.
[2] b32A C.J.S. Evidence § 1054, at 417 (1996).
[3] cIbid, Black's, page 183