Staying Legal in a Shady Business: When PIs Are Asked to Break the Law
Posted by Writing PIs on April 9, 2013
Can’t tell you how many times a potential client will call and ask us to do something blatantly illegal. We’ve had requests asking us to “put some muscle” on someone who’d confiscated a car (a Ferrari, mind you) to putting a GPS on a vehicle the person doesn’t own to downloading listening software on a person’s cell phone. We’ve politely explained that unlike Tony Soprano, we don’t do muscle and we’re not into committing felonies. In the latter two examples (illegally latching GPS trackers on cars and wiretapping phones) we tell the caller that if he/she decides to do that on their own, they’ll be up on felony charges if they’re caught.
Wiretapping & Cell Phone Spyware
More people have smart phones these days, but “back in the day” (not so many years ago), most of us were using cell phones. Remember them? I now think of them as stand-alone cell phones.
It was interesting how many ads were out there (magazines, Internet) for cellphone spyware that a buyer could download on someone’s cell phone and listen to (and track) all their conversations. No mention that the product was inviting people to commit wiretapping, a federal offense and a state crime (both felonies). Some spyware also allowed the listener to hear conversations that occurred in the vicinity of the phone, even when it was turned off.
We had callers say, “But they claim their product is legal in the ads!” No, they didn’t claim their product was legal, but they sure
Committing Burglary and Theft
Probably our most uncomfortable request came from a lawyer, whose name we won’t mention. He asked us to enter a home to take something from it under a false pretense. We reminded the lawyer that the law calls those actions burglary and theft. His response? ”Well, use your own judgement.”
We did. We turned down the case.
Using Shady Business in Fiction
But let’s turn this around to writing fiction–imagine how it bumps up the stakes and tension if a fictional sleuth, knowing he/she is committing a felony, does it anyway. They illegally track with a GPS, knowing the consequences if they get caught, but they’re doing it for a compelling reason (to save a child, for example). Adds complexity and tension to the story, doesn’t it? Or they go into the gray zone and purchase that illegal cell phone software as a last means to track a killer. As a writer, knowing what’s legal or not for your protagonist sleuth helps you crank up the stakes. Plus it adds plausibility.
Have a great week, Writing PIs
- Cops Sued for Searching Cell Phones Without a Warrant (blogs.lawyers.com)
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