“There is a fine line between defending the ‘indigent’ and harassing the innocent”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Miki J.

“Dear PoPville,

I was the victim of a recent robbery (one of a number you’ve blogged about). As if dealing with authorities and insurance in the aftermath wasn’t enough, we keep getting recent visits from a woman who has been coming by a few times a day, unannounced. Not knowing who she was and not expecting anyone (especially at the hour she was here) we did not answer. After incessantly ringing the doorbell on her 4th or 5th visit in the last 24 hours, I finally answered it. She asked to speak with one of the people I live with, and then the other. She acted like they were already familiar, when in fact I knew she did not know them. When I explained I was the homeowner and invited her to introduce herself, she refused, and would not discuss ‘confidential’ matters with me. She said she would keep returning until she reached them.

I told her what happens on my property is my business and I was accountable for what happens here. Furthermore, if I show up at someone’s house, who recently was the victim of a crime, I would naturally not be trusting and divulge information to a complete stranger. So if she refuses to identify herself, nobody will speak to her. I asked if she had legal rights to demand that someone at our address speak to her, and explained that any law enforcement or agent of the government would present credentials if asked about their identity, which she refused to yield. I told her that her repeated attempts to come to the house unsolicited, will not be responded to in a substantive manner, and she is bothering us. She ended up leaving a card for the Public Defender Service after I shut the door.

There is a fine line between defending the “indigent” and harassing the innocent (to include me and my tenants who do not want to speak to anyone about what happened). I was at home when the crime was committed and am working directly with authorities. I don’t like people coming around and being sneaky. What are my legal rights to privacy and what if she or others keep returning to my home? Should I call the police? Honestly this woman is completely unprofessional and relentless.”

32 Comment

  • I’d suggest getting a restraining order at this point.

    • I’ve been both a former testifying witness to a violent crime (mugging/stabbing) and the victim of one (attempted carjacking). PD investigators are the absolute f&*ing worst. They are instructed to come late/early to find people when they are home from work, they are taught that they are immune from trespass liability, and they are encouraged to be “persistent” when tracking down witnesses. But there’s a simple solution if you have the case number or caption, etc. Send a short letter to the presiding judge laying out your concerns, copy the prosecutor and the defense attorney. I seriously doubt they’ll ever bother you again.

  • To save the OP some future embarrassment: Public Defenders defend the *indigent*, not the indignant.

  • PDS Investigators. Bleh.

  • She sounds pretty obnoxious. You and your tenants have the right to speak or not speak with the PD office and its investigators as you see fit, unless they serve you with a subpoena. And unless the person was serving process, she’s trespassing if she fails to leave once told to do so. However, be careful. You can refuse to speak with her and you have no obligation to pass on any messages, but you don’t want to cloud the legal case against the robber by having them argue that you’re actively interfering with their investigation or that you’re tampering with witnesses. Contact the detective and/or prosecutor handling your case and follow his or her lead on this.

  • I think the word you’re looking for is “indigent,” unless the crime was committed by someone who was angered by something perceived as an offense or injustice.

  • Next time call the cops and report a trespassing. Let them handle it.

  • I had one of the PDS show up at my door many years ago looking for his client who had lied about where he lived (he had moved from the address I lived at many years prior) and the gentleman was very apologetic and professional. This woman sounds overly aggressive and unprofessional.

  • What about reporting her to PDS–The hire investigators and would be pretty pissed if they heard that someone was this unprofessional. Even though you don’t have her name, they can find the case (and the assigned staff) based on your name/address.

  • Are you sure she was with the PD, or did she just happen to have a card with them?

    You could always try and find out who her supervisor is and call them.

  • I second the advice to call the U.S. attorney who is assigned to the case against the suspect(s). In my own case, I’ve also been contacted in a very sneaky way. It’s so unsettling, especially after you’ve been a victim of a crime.

  • Hi there,

    I work for a crime victim’s rights non-profit.
    Like Anon said, it is your right to speak or not to speak with this investigator.
    However, once you’ve told them that you do not wish to speak to them they are supposed to leave.
    The prosecutor and detective are def your best bet on this.

  • Seems like we are missing a part of this story.

    • Agree. Let’s remember that the OP is telling THEIR side of the story here and may be portraying themselves in a better light. It seems to me that she stopped by a few times and no one answered and when someone finally did, the investigator got an earful because the OP is a bit on edge (however justified OP’s reason may be). And maybe she was attempting to respect the victims rights by not divulging information about why she was stopping by, you know, because not everyone wants their landlord to know they were a victim of a crime- I don’t need my landlord knowing my business. The OP is right, he/she does not need to comment them self, but they really don’t have the right to deny the investigator from trying to contact their tenant, who is not a child I assume, and can speak for themselves. Girl’s just trying to do her job, geez.

      • What better light? The OP is suspicious of strangers knocking on the door, and demands to know who they are dealing with.. I’ve not been robbed and I don’t open the door or talk to strangers who show up unannounced at my property. No one, no matter what. Very little positive can happen by doing so. Best case it is an annoying sales pitch, worse case it is someone who wants to rob you. I wouldn’t work with a public defender investigator showing up randomly. They would need to contact me and set up an appointment and I probably wouldn’t agree to meet with them at my house. That’s a better way to do the job.

  • I think she should have identified herself from the get-go, but I’m not seeing that she did anything that wrong either. It’s entirely your call about speaking with her (or the cops) and you may not wish to make a statement to the investigator, but there’s still the likelihood you’ll get called as a witness.

  • Sounds like a pretty persistent Public Defender. Sounds like a damn good quality to me. I might need to get her name.

  • I would take her photo, ask her to leave and then call the police if she refused. If she came back I would detain her and wait for the police to arrest her. She’s a pro and knows the risks of the job.

  • For the OP: Understand that the PDS investigator has aero interest in helping you. Rather, the investigator is trying to get you to say anything that could remotely be used in the criminal defense of PDS’s client. Typically, this means that the PDS investigator wants to get information that will discredit the victim’s account.

  • Whatever happen to being polite to someone (which it sounds like the OP was) at first and if respectful instructions to leave/ not come back are not followed, tell them to pound sand. It’s your property and you can tell whoever you want to leave and instruct them if they do not, you’ll call the police. Be direct and make clear you’re not buying what she is selling.

  • So let me get this straight. This PDS investigator is working for/ is defending the criminal who broke into your house? I would probably want to tell her to drop dead and tell her client the same thing. Of course, I would instead tell her we have no wish to comment further and to desist coming back to our home.

  • Tell them that you don’t wish to speak to them and contact the U.S. Attorney and police assigned to the case. They will raise the issue with the judge if it becomes a problem. It’s likely that they want to ask you questions that you’ve already answered so that the defense attorney can raise the inconsistencies at trial. Ex. “he definitely had long hair” versus “I’m pretty sure he had long hair but it was dark”. DCPDS is the top local public defender in the country and they are tenacious and highly skilled. If you report this to their supervisor, they will get a medal because that is what they expect the investigators to do.

  • If you feel that she has done something unethical or illegal after you have made your wishes clear, you could also attempt to file a complaint with the DC Bar. I fear the police being called on me at about a 2 out of 10. I fear the DC Bar getting called on me at about a 10/10.

  • As a criminal defense attorney here in DC, maybe I can offer some general advice. First of all, be polite. If you don’t want to speak with an investigator, you don’t have to – a good stock phrase is “I understand what you are here for, and I do not want to speak with you. I am asking you to leave my property immediately, and if you do not leave I will call the police.” Investigators have certain rights, but once you’ve warned them to leave they have to leave like any other citizen. You definitely can’t physically assault or “detain” them. And while they don’t have to identify themselves, I generally find the good ones are very up-front with who they are and why they’re there.
    Of course you could take another, more positive way to look at it. This investigator is playing a critical role in figuring out who actually robbed you. I find that when my investigators get solid interviews with cooperative witnesses, sometimes it shows me (and therefore my client) that the evidence against him/her is very strong and that they should take a plea deal quickly. At the end of the day, the difference of “he had black hair” and “he had dark hair” (or similar types of minor inconsistencies) rarely sways a jury, and good defense lawyers (and the lawyers at PDS are all very good) know that. And if the inconsistencies in your story are real and significant, perhaps you need to consider how accurate your perception and memory of what happened actually was. Feel free to do some google searches on how inaccurate eye-witness identification can be, and how peoples’ lives can be ruined by an over-reliance on inaccurate witness identifications.
    Last thing – I imagine that if the OP were ever accused of a crime, he’d want the most vigorous defense team possible fighting for him. Perhaps a little more understanding and civility from all parties involved is called for here.

  • PDS investigators are all 21 year old interns and 23 year old staff. They are mostly clueless and idealistic. You do not have to talk to them. They do not have a lot of sense or sensitivity.

  • I had something similar happen a few years ago when I witnessed a crime. It came about at the same time that we had another incident in my neighborhood where someone knocked on a door late at night, crying and pretending to be hurt, and when the homeowner opened the door to help them the other young men she was with who were hiding beside the door forced their way in and robbed them, so I was not about to unlock my door for anyone I didn’t personally know. After explaining through the door that I did not want to talk to them, they kept coming another dozen times. A friend bought me an NRA sticker online and told me to put it on the door! I never actually did put it up, but I’ve thought a few times since then that it just might have solved the problem if I had!

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