Q&A: Criminal Defense Investigator & IBMC College Paralegal Graduate Amanda Burgess-Cranmer
For decades now, IBMC College graduates have found themselves in prestigious roles throughout the communities of northern Colorado.
Amanda Burgess-Cranmer works as a Criminal Defense Investigator for the Fort Collins Public Defenders Office. In addition to being a proud IBMC College Paralegal graduate, Amanda is a self-proclaimed “law nerd,” passionately representing those accused of criminal offenses.
Criminal Defense Investigator is an exciting position in the field of law, and one of many careers that Paralegals are qualified to pursue. For this Q&A, we spoke with Amanda about the path that led her toward her career, the challenges she faces, and why she enjoys the job so much.
Q: How did you originally become interested in the law?
“I started reading law and cases 10 years prior to enrolling at IBMC. My husband always hounded me to get into school in the legal field because I was so obsessed.
Back in 2008 and 2009, our mortgage lender tried to illegally foreclose on our home. We thought for sure we would lose the battle against Corporate America. We went to Arizona, did job interviews and got a rental house set up, thinking we would move there because of the foreclosure.
While on the way home, I realized that by the time our oldest daughter graduated High School, my husband’s credit would affect us getting loans for her to go to college. I went into momma bear mode. I told my husband we were not moving; We are fighting the illegal foreclosure.
I went to Barnes and Noble and bought books to learn how to represent yourself in court and bought a laptop to do research. My husband would take our kids to the park to play and I would lay all the documents on the living room floor and get to work.
Needless to say, we won the Rule 120 hearing. The Judge told us he had never seen someone work so hard to save their home before. He asked my husband who the Attorney was that helped prep the case. He pointed at me and told the Judge, this was all her. After 9 years of fighting the big bank, they gave us the deed to our home. This nightmare allowed me to win our home and help eight other families in three different states save their homes from illegal foreclosures.”
Q: Can you tell us what a Criminal Defense Investigator does on a daily basis?
“This is a hard question to answer because every day is different, as when clients get arrested, the circumstances always vary and their criminal history varies. There are some days where I am sitting at the defense table in court all day long.
I help choose the jury poll, keep clients calm, point out things to the Attorney that they may have missed. I testify in court to impeach witnesses and officers. Prior to a trial, I serve subpoenas to any witnesses the defense may want to call. I capture video footage from the discovery and print photos for the trial. I also attend evidence views so I can take pictures and weigh items.
After the trial is over I will poll the jury to find out what was the deciding factor either way in a trial outcome for them. This helps us to learn what we may have done right or what we may do differently in the future to succeed in a trial.
When my supervisor assigns a new case to me, the first thing I do is read the discovery. The next thing I do is run conflict checks. We may not be able to represent a client if, for instance, we are representing the alleged victim in a separate case or if they are a witness in another case. I create an electronic case file for the client, review all PDF’s and videos in the discovery. I then will interview witnesses, alleged victims, family members, etc. I go out to crime scenes and take pictures, measurements, weights, etc. I write reports off the interviews which are generally handed over the District Attorney (DA) prosecuting the case.
I also go in and visit clients in jail at least one day a week. While there, we may discuss their case, review discovery, or take their measurements so I can take professional clothes to the jail for client’s trials.
I also reach out to other jurisdictions and pull police reports, conviction records and medical records, interview Doctors, etc. Honestly as a Criminal Defense Investigator, our days are full and always vary.”
Q: Can you tell us about the trajectory of your career path?
“When I started attending IBMC, my goal was to get my Paralegal degree, continue on towards my Bachelor’s degree, and then I would move onto law school. I wanted to work in both real-estate and labor law.
At IBMC College, to graduate, you must do your externship. I had one offer in a small family law office to do my externship. Upon my interview in a small criminal law office, the Attorney not only offered me an externship there, but also wanted to hire me as his Paralegal. I turned this down, as I really did enjoy where I was working and that did not fit into my plan to further my education and get my law degree. I did agree to take the externship.
Two days later, IBMC contacted me about another externship interview opportunity at the Public Defender’s office. I had the hardest time even finding the building and was a few minutes late for my interview, and I went into the interview overdressed. I don’t recall how long it took for me to hear back from the Public Defender’s office, but I believe it was within 24 hours.
I struggled with the fact that I had already told the small criminal law office I would take that externship, and the fact that I was intrigued by working at the Public Defender’s office. Either way, I had no interest in doing criminal law long term.
The Public Defender’s office took me out of my comfort zone. It was a large office where I could take advantage of learning from so many people about law. I contacted the small criminal law office that offered me the position and explained my position and that I was going to turn down their opportunity.
After I had completed my externship at the Public Defender’s Office, I continued to volunteer there three days a week. I was involved with so many cases and wanted to see the cases through. After a short amount of time, a position came open as an Investigator. I submitted my application along with 199 others. Six people were called for interviews, including an office administrator that had been employed there for four-plus years, and myself. I was offered the position and have absolutely no regrets.
I can say, I have no intent to going to law school now. I intend to retire as an Investigator. I wholeheartedly love my career and purpose.”
Q: So it sounds like you’re pretty passionate about your career?
“I love my career and the purpose behind the Public Defender’s office. We all see on the news and social media about arrests that were made or alleged crimes that were committed. I promise you, that is only one side of the story. Officers have a tendency to not thoroughly investigate the calls they are sent out on and create a storyline that fits what they assume. The public feeds on this realizing that there is in fact another side to that story.
The people that have been accused and charged with these crimes, have every right to be heard and tell their story. Over half of my clients are mentally ill, have been victims of abuse or neglect, and do not understand their Constitutional rights. I am proud to hold their hand and walk them through the process to make sure they are not railroaded by law enforcement or the prosecution.”
Q: How do you build trust with your clients?
“I sit with our clients and listen to their story. I get to know them, their background, and their life obstacles and ensure that we are there to advocate for them. I let them know we will fight to the end to defend them in court. I stay in regular communication with them as well. The Attorneys are much harder to get in contact with than us Investigators, so we let them know that if they have questions or need to get in touch with the Attorney, to reach out to us.”
Q: What kinds of decisions are you required to make?
“The first and most important one is to make sure everything I do and say is ethical. When speaking with a client and answering their questions, I always have to consider if my response would be considered legal advice. If it would be, I let the client know I will have their attorney respond to those questions as they would fall under legal advice.
I must also decide what evidence to gather, what medical reports or certified conviction records to gather, and what witnesses to speak with. All of this may be beneficial to our client’s defense. I also have to be prepared and know as much as I can about the case prior to speaking to people because I may only have one opportunity.”
Q: What gives you a sense of accomplishment in your job?
“Knowing that I am helping my community, the people that live in my community, and truly having a career that impacts my client’s futures. My clients and their families appreciate the work I do. I am not just an employee in customer service, flipping burgers, accounting, or in the service field; my career makes a long term difference. I am able to help people understand their rights and help tell their story.
I may have a client that suffers from mental illness and they are looking at some long jail time. We can negotiate for that client and get them the mental health help that they need rather than a long sentence. This allows the client to move forward, make better choices and be more stable so they do not reoffend.”
Q: Has COVID-19 changed the way you do your job?
“Yes it has impacted our jobs in a tremendous way. COVID-19 has made our jobs and goals a lot more challenging. Prior to COVID-19, I would go to the office, work out in the field, go into the jail or prisons and even go to court. Since the pandemic hit us, I am unable to do any of those things. We all work remotely from home now.
It can be difficult to work on cases with them being confidential and you are quarantined at home per state order and you have other family members around. You must keep a real sense of your surroundings and isolate yourself as much as possible.
When I needed to find a witness or serve subpoenas, I would go into the field and knock on doors. It is a lot harder for someone to slam the door in your face compared to ignoring your phone calls or hanging up on you. I can’t go out to businesses and gather video surveillance or take pictures of crime scenes.
When we go into courts, we will be required to keep a 6-foot distance from everyone and wear a mask. This makes it difficult to be able to communicate with attorneys and client when you are trying to be quiet.
I do hope that one day we will be able to go back to normal and the way things were pre-COVID. I miss the personal interactions with both co-workers and clients.”
Q: Was there anything from your training at IBMC that was particularly impactful?
“Oh my goodness yes. There is absolutely no way I could have been prepared to work as an Investigator for the state if I hadn’t received the great education that I did from Carl Daniel and Judy Boker. I only had one class with Bob White. Bob was certainly the teacher that would and loved to challenge a student.
Judy gives real life career and hands-on techniques for students that will work as Paralegals. She has so many years of experience behind her that she knows first-hand the requirements to be successful as a Paralegal. She also gives great examples of what to do in different situations that will arise on the job.
Carl always gave excellent explanations to what he was teaching. He called on all students to participate, to ensure everyone understood the concepts of his curriculum. I wrote a review once in one of his classes stating he was like a drill sergeant. He will repeat himself and make sure that what he teaches sticks in your head.
These teachers made class fun and interesting. They were not there to babysit us, but were there to guide, demonstrate and educate us. Their passion for law shows in their lessons and their desire to teach those students that truly wanted to be there and learn. They were all available outside of class hours to help in any way they could. From hearing about real life clients that Judy handled, to Carl’s auctioneering and bartering to Bob’s favorite number 9, these instructors are the greatest. Lean on them, listen to them and take good notes. The more thorough your note taking, the better the materials stick with you long term.
Jo Anne Hilzer was also a lifesaver for me. I write so many reports and create so many spreadsheets for my job. She taught me so many ways to be able to create what I need to for my cases. When I first started my position, I wrote faster than I typed. Now I hate writing and definitely type faster than I write. I never would have thought that I would have benefited so much from the computer classes I had taken, but Jo Anne taught me so many tricks and shortcuts that have really made my job easier.”
Q: Are there specific traits, personalities, or skills that would make someone a good Paralegal?
“You must keep everything confidential and follow legal ethics. You must be a team player and great at communication. It can be difficult when you don’t see an attorney you are working on a case with for weeks at a time. You need to learn each attorney’s behaviors and their preferences on how to be able to communicate about cases on a regular basis. You cannot be judgmental. You must always keep an open mind, have patience, be detail oriented, think outside the box, be willing to learn, and love what you do. You must also see your position as just that, a position and not take the work home with you. Some cases are very emotional. It’s like you must put all your work inside the box and put the lid on the box each day before you go home.”
Q: What advice would you give someone who is considering a career in law?
“Don’t hesitate, and get started right away. You can’t put a price on happiness and if you are passionate about law, get started. Keep an open mind about the different areas of law.
As I stated previously, I intended to do real-estate or labor law, not criminal law. I always tried to sit in the front of the classroom so I would not be distracted. While I was in my criminal law class, I sat towards the back of the class pretty much with my arms crossed during class. When we had professionals come in and speak to us, I asked them how they could possibly lay their head down at night and feel good about themselves. They explained that each case is just a case and they were just performing their job. Whatever may have happened between the parties involved had no impact on their personal lives. I just couldn’t ever imagine unseeing the stuff these professionals saw and couldn’t imagine defending someone that was charged with a crime.
Upon doing my externship, I quickly realized that no, you can’t un-see things, but that things are not always as they appear either. If law is your passion, get your degree and stay opened minded.”
Pursue Your Passion at IBMC College
Amanda is just one of thousands of graduates that found what she needed to chase her passion at IBMC College. If you’re interested in learning more about the Paralegal Degree Program—or any other program—take the first step by scheduling a tour of IBMC College’s Greeley campus.