Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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Answering Writers’ Questions: When Does a PI’s Surveillance Become Stalking?

Posted by Writing PIs on October 21, 2014

gavel and scales

Here’s a question that used to come up a lot in our workshops with writers.

WRITER’S QUESTION: At what point does a surveillance tail become stalking?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’ ANSWER: Let’s start with checking the ethics in one’s motive for conducting surveillance.  If the surveillance performed serves a purpose of obtaining information that PIs usually obtain, then courts will uphold rigorous surveillance. A few years ago, an individual in Michigan sued Henderson Investigations for a violation of the Michigan stalking law for actions the investigators took during an insurance surveillance. The PI firm fought the case all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which agreed with the PIs that “surveillance by private investigators contributes to the goal of obtaining information and amounts to conduct that serves a legitimate purpose.  Even though plaintiff observed the investigators following him more than once, this is not a violation of the stalking law.” In summary, the Michigan Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit outright and never allowed it to the stage where a trial was held.

Contrast this with a situation where a PI is hired to simply “put the muscle” on a witness or opponent in a lawsuit.  Repeated contact in the absence of an information-gathering purpose is a road sign indicating the on-ramp to stalking and illegal harassment. As an example of a licensed PI crossing the line into illegal conduct, take the example of the “PI to the stars” Anthony Pellicano, who was charged in Los Angeles County in 2005 with intimidating a Los Angeles Times reporter.  In that case, the Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley announced the charges against Pellicano, in a complaint that alleged the private detective’s co-conspirator had threatened the reporter “by placing a dead fish with a rose in its mouth on the windshield of her car. He made a hole in the windshield with the intent to make it appear like a bullet hole.  He also placed a sign with the word ‘stop’ on the windshield.”

We’d call this not only stalking, but menacing, damage to property, harassment, battery, and abuse of a fish.

fish

Other Articles of Interest on This Topic

Anthony Pellicano Back in Court, Agrees to Deposition in Michael Ovitz Case (Hollywood Reporter, July 2014)

L.A. Judge Nixes Mike Ovitz’s Latest Bid in Pellicano Case; Anita Busch Case Heading for Trial (Deadline, April 2014)

Anita Busch Deposed As Lawsuits Against Michael Ovitz, Anthony Pellicano Revived (Wrap, August 2011)

fedora black and white

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

Posted in PIs and Lawyers, Private Eyes in the News, Q&As | Tagged: , , | Comments Off

A Mysterious Blonde and a Missing Quarter Million Dollars

Posted by Writing PIs on September 20, 2014

Once we solved an embezzlement case based on this single piece of information from our client: He suspected a thirty-ish woman with blond hair.

woman pink illustratoin

A Lot of Assumptions and No Concrete Evidence

Our client told us his elderly uncle had been a Scrooge-like character who had saved a lot of money over the years, over a quarter million, yet after his sudden death by heart attack it was discovered that his savings account had next to nothing in it. How did our client know that his uncle had previously saved a lot of money? Apparently he’d once shown a bank statement to a young great-niece who had since moved to another state to attend college.

A Neighbor Claimed Seeing the Blonde

A neighbor, peeking through her blinds, saw a blonde

A neighbor, peeking through her blinds, saw the blonde

Our client suspected a blonde woman, possibly in her early thirties, might have defrauded his elderly uncle as she had been his only visitor in the last six months of his life (based on a sighting by a neighbor who’d been peeking through her blinds). He had no idea who this blonde was or what her possible relationship might have been with his uncle. Because he (and other relatives, except for this young great-niece) had not been on speaking terms with the uncle (who apparently greeted their attempts with hostility and anger), no one else in the family had any idea who this blonde might be, either.

One night I said to my husband, “Maybe the uncle was living the life he liked. Ignoring relatives who got on his nerves, and talking only to lovely young women.”

However, we weren’t so sure we believed this blond phantom really existed. The neighbor (who lived across the street) said the blonde had been “walking away from” the uncle’s house. Okay, but this could also mean that the blonde had been walking down the sidewalk away from someone’s else’s house.

We decided to start canvassing the neighborhood, see if anyone else had seen this blonde.

Knocking on Neighbors’ Doors

We knocked on doors, identifying ourselves and asking if anyone might have seen a thirty-something blonde visiting the elderly man’s home. After numerous “no’s,” we got a yes.

A young man said he’d noticed a tall blonde visiting the old man several times a week and that she drove a vintage sports car. However, he’d only caught a glimpse of the car as she always parked on the far side of the man’s home, so it hadn’t been easily visible to most people on the block.

And another yes. A middle-aged woman had seen the blonde show up the day after the old man died. The neighbor said the blonde entered the man’s house with a key and exited with several boxes of items.

We Extended Our Canvassing

Okay, the blonde was real. And seemed to have been quite close to the uncle if she had a key to his place. We let our client know of our findings, and suggested he change the locks.

Then we brainstormed what steps to take next. We wondered if the blonde might have been, well, a paid companion. If so, maybe the two of them only had visitations in his home, then she left. In our walk-through of the house, however, we hadn’t seen anything that helped identify her.

Or maybe the uncle thought she was…his girlfriend? As the uncle didn’t drive (and didn’t have a car), and no one had noticed the blonde driving the uncle anywhere, we wondered if they might have walked to one of the nearby bars or restaurants for a date, possibly in the evenings when they might not have been as easily seen?

A Bartender Knew Her NameGimlet cocktail

We walked from the uncle’s house, visiting each bar and restaurant, showing his photo and asking waitresses and bartenders if they had ever seen this man with a young blonde. Finally, a bartender remembered the woman and the elderly man. Said they sometimes sat at the bar, enjoying cocktails. Several times they moved to a back booth where they’d have dinner afterward. He even knew her first name. Said she once mentioned driving up from [town name] to visit the old guy.

We knew this town, which was approximately a forty-minute drive from the uncle’s home. Fortunately, for our case, the town was small, which meant we’d have better luck identifying her via a proprietary database search, from which we learned her full name, date of birth, and oh my…a possible criminal history (proprietary databases sometimes dredge up high-level information about criminal histories, fyi). We also learned that the vintage automobile had been purchased within the last six months.

We next ran her data in our state court records database…and discovered she had a criminal record for – guess what? – embezzlement.

We forwarded this information to our client, with the suggestion he contact a probate attorney ASAP.

hat and magnifying glass on computer

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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History of the Private Detective: From Vidocq to Pinkerton

Posted by Writing PIs on September 12, 2014

Eugene Francois Vidocq, recognized as the first P.I.

Eugene Francois Vidocq, recognized as the first private eye

In 1833 Eugene Francois Vidcoq, a French ex-criminal, founded one of the first private detective agencies, Le bureau des renseignments (Office of Intelligence) where he oversaw the work of other detectives, many ex-criminals such as himself.  He is credited with having introduced record-keeping, criminology, and ballistics to criminal investigation.  He also created indelible ink and unalterable bond paper with his printing company. Apparently, he had an altruistic bent as he claimed he never informed on anyone who had stolen for real need.

With Vidocq, the private investigator was born.  As the industry evolved, clients often hired PIs to act in law enforcement capacities, especially in matters for which they were not equipped or willing to do.  This led to PI agencies sometimes performing like private militia and assisting companies in labor disputes.

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton

Allan Pinkerton was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 25, 1819, and emigrated to the United States in 1842, where he founded a barrel-making shop in Dundee, forty miles outside Chicago. As an abolitionist, he set up his shop to also be a station for slaves escaping via the “underground railroad” for freedom in the northern states. After his work helping bust up a counterfeit ring, the Cook County sheriff offered Pinkerton a job as an investigator in Chicago. Within a few years, he accumulated more arrests for burglaries and murders than any of the other police officers within the department. He also gained a reputation for being fearless, having an iron-clad integrity and the ability to quickly read people.

Operatives’ Ethics

In 1850, Allan Pinkerton established the Pinkerton National Detective Agency at 151 Fifth Avenue in the heart of Chicago.  In an era with many law enforcement personnel openly associating with criminals sharing their illegal profits, Pinkerton stood out by promising that his agents would not only produce results, but always act with the highest ethics.   He promised to:

  • Accept no bribes
  • Never compromise with criminals;
  • Partner with local law enforcement agencies, when necessary
  • Refuse divorce cases or cases that initiated scandals of clients
  • Turn down reward money (his agents were paid well)
  • Never raise fees without the client’s pre-knowledge, and
  • Apprise clients on an ongoing basis.

It’s remarkable how many of the above ethical standards are mirrored in many PIs’ standards today (such as regularly apprising clients, partnering with law enforcement, and raising fees only with clients’ knowledge).  It’s also amusing to read how Pinkerton’s men refused divorce cases considering today many PIs specialize in marital investigations.

A Master at Marketing

Besides being an outstanding investigator, Pinkerton was also a master promoter of his agency. He made sure news of his investigators’ successes at catching murderers and thieves became newspaper stories. He also crafted a logo, an eye surrounded with the words “We Never Sleep,” the motto of his agency, and posted it in magazines, circulars, newspapers, billboards, and even wanted posters.

In 1856, Pinkerton hired Kate Warne as his first female investigator, which was highly unusual at the time. According to the Pinkerton website, police departments did not hire women to join their ranks until 1891, nor did they get promoted to be investigators until 1903.

Kate Warne, the First Female Private Eye in the U.S.

There is little biographical information known about Kate Warne, although some sources claim she was born in 1833 in New York, and was a widow with no children. Allan Pinkerton described her as a slender, brown-haired woman who, in 1856, responded to an ad for detectives at the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Pinkerton presumed she was there to inquire about a clerical job. Later, he said that she demanded to be a private detective, and that he eventually hired her for that role on August 23, 1856. By 1860, Pinkerton had hired several more women to be detectives, calling them his “Female Detective Bureau” which was supervised by Warne.

Dead Ends While Researching Warne

Possible sketch of Kate Warne

Possible sketch of Kate Warne

Lynn H. Levy, owner and president of L.H. Levy Investigations, Inc., in Baltimore is currently writing a book about ten female investigators, including Kate Warne. In her research, Levy dug through 72 boxes in the Pinkerton archives at the Library of Congress, but due to a fire at the Pinkerton offices years before (likely the result of the Chicago fire in 1871), there was very little information about the agency in the 1850s.

In her further research on Kate Warne, Levy said, “I read every book published about Pinkerton, and there was enough information to get a full chapter about Kate. I found a few drawings of her and some photos that they believed were of her, but we don’t really know. She was born in New York and I’ve been trying to find out anything I can from sources there. They’re not even sure that was her last name. Up until she walked into Pinkerton’s office, there’s very little written about her.”

 Warne’s Most Famous Case

In 1861, Kate Warne helped foil an assassination attempt on President-elect Abraham Lincoln on his travels to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s website article “Saving Mr. Lincoln,” Warne accompanied Pinkerton and four other operatives from his agency to Baltimore where Pinkerton had heard a plot to assassinate Lincoln would take place. According to other sources, she both helped to coordinate the operatives as well as to devise a strategy for getting Lincoln safely from Baltimore to Washington, D.C.

Warne and Pinkerton’s Relationship

Pinkerton’s brother Robert wasn’t happy with Kate Warne’s agency expenses as he believed they included funds his brother diverted for gifts and travels with Kate as his mistress. Pinkerton never confirmed such a relationship. Nor is there any documentation written by Kate, not even a letter, to offer any of her insights about her life.

In 1868, Kate fell ill, and Pinkerton stayed by her side, nursing her, until she died. Some say she suffered from pneumonia and that her death was sudden, other sources say it was a lengthy, painful illness that is unknown.

Pinkerton had her buried in his family plot at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, with a spot reserved next to her for him when he died. In his will decades later, he dictated that Kate’s plot was never to be sold. They remain buried next to each other to this day.

Private Investigators in the 20th Century

By the 1920s, due to the expanding middle class in America, the private investigator became better known to the average citizen.  Since then, the PI industry has continued to grow as it fills the needs of the public (who retain PIs to work on cases like infidelity, fraud, and criminal defense investigations).  Licensing requirements, with criteria a PI must meet, have also been regulated in most states in the U.S.  Additionally, professional organizations (regional, national, and international) combined with good business practices have cast the PI career in a more respected light versus its outdated, fictional reputation as the wrinkled trench coat, fallen-from-grace Sam Spade figure found in books and film.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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Answering a Writer’s Question: Can a Private Investigator Get Romantically Involved with a Client?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 6, 2014

“Let me explain something to you, Walsh. This business requires a certain amount of finesse.”~ Jake Gittes, Chinatown (1974)

Note to Readers: Several years ago, Colleen wrote a monthly column, “P.I. Confidential,” for Novelists, Inc., a community of writers who write novel-length commercial fiction. At the end of each article, she would answer questions writers had sent in — below is her response to a question about P.I.s having romantic dalliances with their clients.

fedora black and white

Writer’s Question: Are there any legal restrictions on a P.I. getting involved with a client, the subject of an investigation, a fellow P.I., or a law enforcement officer who’s involved in the same case? If not, are there generally accepted ethical guidelines or is it totally up to the P.I.’s own judgment? How about any lawsuits arising out of these kinds of relationships?

Answer: It’s certainly popular in film and books for a P.I. to get involved with a client. It’s not uncommon in real life, either. In our community, there’s a high-profile P.I. who became romantically involved with a woman who’d hired him to be her bodyguard–years later, they’re still happily together.

Although there aren’t always legal restrictions, there are often ethical ones to consider in the relationships mentioned. As to lawsuits, none appear in online sources; however, that doesn’t mean none exist. (Note: This was based on research in May 2011).

Involvement with a Client

Attorneys, physicians, accountants and psychologists cannot legally get involved with their clients because those professional-client relationships are interwoven with significant trust. However, in the vast majority of jurisdictions, there is no legal proscription forbidding a P.I. getting involved with a client.

That said, there are a pile of reasons why a P.I. should scrupulously avoid romantic entanglements with clients, a key one being the P.I.’s loss of professional objectivity. After all, clients hire P.I.s to make factual discoveries, not be advocates of their versions of events.

If a P.I. is hired through an attorney, the P.I. is an agent of that law firm, and the P.I.’s conduct is covered by the attorney’s code of professional responsibility. Therefore, if a P.I. were to get involved with a client, that attorney is on the hook for negligent supervision. For example, the attorney could be viewed as authorizing the P.I.’s sexual misconduct with a client, and the attorney could easily lose his/her license. Horrible scenario in real-life, juicy for fiction.

Involvement with the Subject of an Investigation

Let’s look at a few examples of what might be construed as a “romantic involvement”:

  • Taking the subject out to dinner
  • Weekend trips
  • Buying presents.

In the eyes of the law, the appearance of impropriety is as bad as the impropriety itself. In other words, if it looks like a fish, then it smells like a fish.

In a worse-case scenario, if police or opposing counsel learned that a P.I. was romantically involved with the subject of an investigation, it’s conceivable that the P.I. might be charged with tampering with a witness, improper influence or bribery. What if it was truly an innocent get-together, just an interview over dinner, nothing more? Sorry, a qualified P.I. should know appearances count. Again, this scenario offers ample fodder for fiction.

Let’s say the P.I. has become romantically linked to the subject of an investigation, and the romance goes south. A heartbroken witness might report a P.I.’s “misconduct” to authorities, maybe concoct a few heinous details (there’s no fury like a scorned lover). The P.I. could be publicly skewered by the local media and by opposing counsel in open court, and let us not forget the far-reaching impact of blogs, Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn…

Involvement with a Law Enforcement Officer

If a P.I. and police officer, who are intimately involved, are on different sides of a case, and they share–or even appear to share–case information, it can undermine a legal proceeding. For example, a convicted person is sitting, and stewing, in prison…then one day he learns that the D.A.’s detective in his case, and the P.I. the convicted man’s family hired, were lovers. Convict rings up his attorney, who files a motion for a new trial, claiming the P.I. shared investigative information and strategy with the other side of the case. Guess what? The conviction could easily be overturned.

Involvement with a Fellow P.I.

Yours truly eloped with her P.I.-business partner, so she well understands this scenario. First, let’s look at it this way: It’s not uncommon for professional peers–whether they’re P.I.s, cops, lawyers, or stockbrokers–to get involved. However, an ethical dilemma could arise if the P.I.s are working opposite sides of a case (see “Involvement with a Law Enforcement Officer,” above).

A by-product of a P.I.-P.I. relationship is the absolute unpredictability of each partner’s schedule. With one cell phone call, a candlelit dinner can turn into a moonlight surveillance. If they’re both working the same case, no ethical problems there…as long as both P.I.s keep their eyes on the target, not the moon…or each other.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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Going for the Best: What We Looked for When Hiring a New Private Investigator

Posted by Writing PIs on September 2, 2014

Nearly three years ago, we evolved from a full-time private investigations agency to a full-time law practice. Shaun now specializes in criminal, personal injury and business litigation law; Colleen conducts part-time paralegal and investigative services as well as writing fiction and nonfiction books. Knowing she would be too busy to fulfill all the investigative and process service tasks for the law firm, we put on our thinking caps about which local P.I.s might be a good fit for sub-contract work.

Our Search for a Wing Man/Woman

Prior to opening our investigations agency in 2003, Shaun had been a criminal defense lawyer for nearly two decades and had trained at least a dozen legal investigators during that time. Several have gone on to open their own successful legal investigations agencies. We had also garnered substantial experience during the decade we worked full time as investigators, so our standards were high for hiring a quality P.I. In our search, these were some of our guidelines:

Legal Acumen and Experience

The last thing we wanted an investigator to do was kick in someone’s back door to serve them with a subpoena. Sounds like juicy stuff that only happens in fiction, but unfortunately there have been some process servers/investigators who’ve crossed the legal line in our state, resulting in some messy lawsuits. If that were to happen while working for our law firm, it could be sued for failing to adequately investigate the background of the P.I. Ideally, we wanted someone who had extensive familiarity with the legal issues that arise during investigative activities such as rules of process service, laws of privacy, awareness of the fair debt collection practices act, legal definition of stalking, laws of eavesdropping and wiretapping.

Tenacity

A good investigator never gives up the hunt. We can’t count the number of cases we’ve broken because we stayed that extra fifteen minutes or asked that one last question.

Attention to Detail

It’s one thing to see the big picture in a case, or to know the goal, but it’s another to magnify a piece of the case and extract that telling detail that could crack it.

Must Like People

We wanted a private investigator who likes and deals well with people. A private investigator needs to understand what makes people tick and how to coax information from them. This means the investigator must be part psychologist, part actor, part confidante, part interrogator and always trustworthy. Also, we didn’t want a pompous know-it-all who’d been in the business so long, he/she thinks they know the answers to everything. That kind of holier-than-thou attitude doesn’t leave much, if any, room for discussion or strategizing a case.

Accountability

A private investigator can be all of the above traits, but if he/she fails to respond to phone calls to our office or is suddenly “out of pocket” without explanation for hours or days, these delays can damage a case. Witnesses can disappear, evidence can be altered, crime scenes can be cleaned up…you get the picture.

How We Found the Best

We started out looking for an investigator by:

  • Contacting a few P.I.s we had worked with and respected, asking if they were interested. One was no longer in the biz, and the other took so long to return our call we realized she was too busy for us.
  • Chatting with some of our former attorney-clients with whom we’d worked closely. One recommended a local P.I. who specialized in process services among other investigative tasks. When we called this guy, he might as well have answered his phone, “Hello, I Don’t Want Your Case” because after we told him he’d come highly recommended and we’d like to sub-contract work with him, he started telling us a story of woe about his stack of cases. How his caseload is so large, he would have to schedule our cases weeks out. He grumbled about some of his own clients. We realized this P.I. might be good for this other attorney, but not us. We didn’t need someone who was too busy and griped about his own clients to strangers.

Then We Recalled a P.I. We Had Contacted Years Ago…

Several years before we morphed into a law firm, we had needed some last-minute investigative help on a case. We had contacted another P.I. who said he didn’t have the expertise necessary, but suggested we call Investigator X. We called, he wasn’t in and we left a message. We ended up hiring another investigator because we were under a tight deadline, however Investigator X called us back a few hours later, apologized for not being available when we first called, and asked for us to keep him in mind for future cases.

Years later, we remembered that message. We called, discussed a current case for which we needed help, liked his professionalism and ideas, and hired him for the job. Within twenty-four hours, he had proven his legal acumen and experience, his tenacity, his attention to detail, his ability to deal with different personality types, and his accountability. Three years later, he’s still our wing man.

Whether you’re a P.I. or not, this story shows the importance of simple, everyday business practices. You never know when the call you return opens other doors.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

fedora black and white

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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The Drug Smuggler Who Wore Gucci

Posted by Writing PIs on August 28, 2014

Today Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Colleen is the guest at mystery writer Lois Winston’s blog. Below is an excerpt from Colleen’s article about a high-style drug smuggler with a link to the full article at the end.

The Felonious Fashionista

by Colleen Collins

fedora on woman black and white

My husband and I ran a private investigations agency for a decade, which has since morphed into his criminal law practice where I’m his part-time P.I. Or as I  call myself, his “live-in P.I.”

Occasionally, we’ve had clients give us thank-you gifts for handling their cases, from Starbucks cards to homemade tamales. But the most surprising gift offer was from a client who committed crimes in the high style she also liked to wear.  For this article, I’ll call her the felonious fashionista.

How We Met the Felonious Fashionista

A case came into our office a few years ago, where a man said his sister had been arrested on drug charges, and could our law firm handle her case? We get similar calls every month or so, usually for someone who’s been busted for recreational amounts of illicit drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, Oxycontin. When we asked the particulars of his sister’s charges, he said, “She had ten pounds of heroin packed in the air cleaner of the Mercedes she was driving, and fifty pounds of marijuana in the luggage carrier on top of the car.”

Our jaws dropped.

“Walk like you have three men walking behind you.”
- Oscar de la Renta

Because we were hired quickly after the fashionista had fired another lawyer, we didn’t meet her until her second appearance in court. Imagine our surprise when a Sofia Vergara clone sashayed into the courthouse as if she were prowling a catwalk. She wore insanely high heels, a silk blouse and a front-split skirt that flashed glimpses of her tan, toned thighs. Later we learned she had been a fashion model in a European country.

Other lawyers in the hallway looked like a tableau, frozen as they stared in awe at this beautiful woman, their looks turning to surprise and curiosity as she greeted us warmly. As the three of us walked into the courtroom, she glanced at my husband’s green nylon briefcase decorated with several ink smudges, then at my purse, which is more like an oversized messenger bag as I cram everything into it, from books to my computer.

After the hearing, she took us aside and said she wanted to gift us both with designer luggage briefcases as ours were in serious need of an “upgrade.” Did we like Saint Laurent? Gucci?

“We like REI,” my husband quipped.

That evening, I found him looking up Gucci briefcases on the internet.

Let’s pause a moment and discuss what this drug smuggler gained from her fashionista ways.

To read the full article click here.

Other Recent Articles

Prejudices About Trial Lawyers (Shaun Kaufman Law)

A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: Types of Lawyers – Criminal Law (Colleen Collins Books)

woman looking thru mag glass black and white2

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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Answering Writer’s Question: How Easy Would It Be for a Person to Adopt a New Identity?

Posted by Writing PIs on August 14, 2014

bad guy

Writer’s Question: How difficult would it be for an everyday person (I’ll call him Joe Smith) to learn how to obtain falsified ID documents?  In my story, I have a character who’s hired by shady business people to gain secrets about an opponent’s business.  Could Joe Smith easily (or not so easily) get a job under a different name, and get falsified docs in that name?    As long as Joe Smith didn’t have a criminal record (in fact, he has a squeaky clean record), is it plausible he can get away with this?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: It’s not difficult to get new identity documents, but it is difficult to adopt skill-set, career talents, and being convincing as another person with a life history, friends and family.  As to how this everyday person in your story might go about getting new ID documents, the person might turn to someone who possibly has connections to underground contacts, such as a bookie, and ask if they know someone who can assist with providing forged identity documents.  Of course, your character shouldn’t bumble into such a conversation, but could perhaps pay attention to this hypothetical bookie, get a feel if he/she might have such contacts, then ease into the old “I have a friend who’s looking for a new driver’s license because he lost his after a DUI…”

Below is a link to an FAQ that offers Q&As on this topic. A lot of it appears to be an organization hyping its report on this topic, but we’re talking about fiction in this post, not real life, so maybe there’s a nugget or two you can use in your story.

Note: We do not encourage employing questionable or illegal tactics, and the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author/s and respondents and in no way reflects our endorsement:  

“New Identity FAQ”

Have a good week, Writing PIs

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All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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When Is a Private Investigator’s Evidence Admissible in Court?

Posted by Writing PIs on August 9, 2014

 

gavel and scales

 

WRITER’S QUESTION: While a PI is conducting an investigation (looking for a skip or doing surveillance) and he/she learns, overhears, or discovers evidence that may help the prosecutor (or defense) in a trial, is it admissible? For example, if cops search without a search warrant, except under well-defined circumstances anything they find is not admissible.  What might be some examples of information a PI might learn that would or could be used in a trial?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’ ANSWER:  As private citizens, PIs are not limited by the Fourth Amendment because it applies to governmental action, meaning that private investigators are not governmental agents and are therefore not restricted by the Fourth Amendment. Police officers, parole officers, district attorney investigators, or anyone working in publicly compensated law enforcement (crime scene technicians, coroners, deputy sheriffs, etc.) are bound by the Fourth Amendment.

Therefore, anything a private investigator sees/documents is admissible evidence in court. However, PIs are not obligated by law (as law enforcement is obligated by law) to reveal their observations or seizures to the other side. For example, in one of our cases, we were lawfully in our client’s estranged wife’s residence when we documented extensive drug use and manufacture. We photographed the scene and our client’s attorney used these photographs to obtain sole custody for our client’s son. What if the estranged wife’s attorney had caught wind of this evidence and subpoenaed us to turn over this documentation? We would have used the work-product doctrine (which has nothing to do with Fourth Amendment protection and has everything to do with attorney-client privileges) to bar the revelation of the documents and our testimony. However, this is an empty hypothetical because the other side had no interest in seeing damning evidence.

When people speak in a public place, anything they say or are observed doing is admissible in court.

Eavesdropping, on the other hand, is listening in (or documenting) private conversations/actions, and those are not admissible in court. For example, if someone has a “legitimate expectation of privacy in the communication” (for example, they’re in their living room having a conversation in a hushed tone of voice), it would be eavesdropping to use a parabolic microphone to record that conversation. If, however, they’re leaning out the window of their living room, talking to someone inside the house, but their voice can be heard from the street, that is not a legitimate expectation of privacy in communication and can be documented and forwarded as evidence. Colleen captured such a conversation in an insurance investigation and it was used as evidence at trial.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

What to Do When Confronted with a DUI Checkpoint (Shaun Kaufman Law)

A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: Types of Lawyers – Criminal Law (Colleen Collins Books)

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All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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Historical Research: Finding People From Over 40 Years Ago

Posted by Writing PIs on July 30, 2014

Private Investigator reviewing evidence

Going Back to the Early 1970s

We’ve had a few cases where clients asked us to identify people who were either employed at, or did contract work for, two different buildings (one a former business) that existed over 40 years ago. In both cases, our clients didn’t know the people’s full names, and the business had been closed for several decades.

Case #1: Finding a Car Mechanic

In one, a lawyer hired us to find a car mechanic who had worked in Denver some time in the early 1970s. We had his last name (which fortunately was unique — better than trying to find someone with the last name of Smith or Jones!), his wife’s first name, and the name of a dealership (which had closed over twenty years ago) where he had once worked. Researching proprietary databases wasn’t useful because their information didn’t go back that far. Surprisingly, old local telephone books from that era didn’t contain any people with that last name.

One track of investigative research that was fruitful, however, was researching business owners of the former car dealership through our state’s Secretary of State database, then researching contact information for these people and their family members. It took a lot of calls and hitting dead ends, but eventually we found a contact who remembered this car mechanic. Unfortunately, he had died years ago, but we were able to conduct an interview with one of his-coworkers from that former dealership, who gave us information useful for the lawyer’s case.

Case #2: Finding a Building Contractor

In a current case, we needed to determine the identities of building contractors who built a school building in 1970, and later remodeled a school gymnasium in 1972. Our client, a law firm back east, only knew the names of the buildings. Fortunately, in our state, school districts are mandated by law to keep business records, contracts and architectural plans on file in case the school requires any remodeling.

To our amazement, we learned that this school district had gone above and beyond the mandate by also keeping every scrap of paper associated to a contract, even scribbled notes. Such a find is a PI’s dream come true. We visited the off-site storage facility where boxes of these notes had been stored, and sifted through box after box, looking for any mention of a contractor’s name…eventually, we found the names of contractors and subcontractors for these buildings, nearly 40 years later!

This last case shows how, even in this digital age, old-fashioned footwork can solve a case. If we had relied solely on the documents faxed to us by the school district, we never would have learned the identities of the contractors.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

 

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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Remembering James Garner’s Iconic Jim Rockford

Posted by Writing PIs on July 20, 2014

 

We’re both long-time fans of The Rockford Files, and it saddened us to learn of James Garner’s passing. Today we’re sharing some articles in which we referenced one of our favorite private eye characters, Jim Rockford, from the ’74-’80 TV show The Rockford Files. Below are those posts, along with excerpts:

The Rockford Files: Magical Surveillances In A Gold ’78 Firebird (from colleencollinsbooks.com)

I’m a huge fan of the old TV series The Rockford Files, staring one of my all-time favorite actors James Garner — in fact, my husband and I own the entire series on DVD.  But gotta say, how’d he pull off all those surveillances in a shiny gold Firebird?

Magic.

Pretexting: Okay for Jim Rockford, But Not Always for Real-Life P.I.s (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

We own the complete DVD set of the The Rockford Files TV show that ran from 1974-1980.  Love James Garner in that show as the droll, I’d-rather-be-fishing private eye Jim Rockford.  He kept his gun in a cookie jar and carried around a printing device so he could quickly imprint a business card with a bogus ID whenever necessary…

Answering Writers’ Questions: Who are the most realistically portrayed fictional PIs? (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

(Among our answers was Jim Rockford)

 

We’re both diehard Rockford fans, even though no PI in their right mind would do lengthy surveillances in a shiny gold muscle car (talk about sticking out!). Nor do PIs get embroiled in the quantity of violence and lengthy car chases Rockford does. But if you peel away the gold car, fights, and squealing breaks, he’s a hard-working, blue-collar character who reminds us of many PIs.

Do All Private Eyes Carry Concealed Handguns? (from Guns, Gams and Gumshoes)

We get this question a lot from people.  In those great old noir films, seems every private detective carried one and used it freely.  Then along came Rockford (from the TV show The RockFord Files), and that easy-going, beach-loving PI preferred to keep his gun in a cookie jar than carry it…

 

Have a good week, Writing PIs

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All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Any use of the content (including images owned by Colleen Collins and/or Shaun Kaufman) requires specific, written authority. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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