Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

Posts Tagged ‘online writing classes’

Answering Writer’s Question: Why Is It Okay for PIs to Forward People’s Personal Information to Lawyers?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 27, 2010

This is a great question, one we’ve learned sometimes stymies writers.  Although lawyers aren’t known to have “bad intentions” in such real-life scenarios, just think of the complications and fun twists if one did in a fiction story.

Writer’s Question: I’ve read that PIs shouldn’t forward a client’s personal information to a civilian-client (versus an attorney-client). Does this mean that giving the info to an attorney is perfectly all right? Provided you’re working for one, of course. What if you suspect the attorney has personal involvement and, maybe, bad intentions?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: The fact that an attorney is licensed means that he/she answers to a higher authority (the attorney regulatory agency for that state).  In addition to their responsibilities as citizens, attorneys have additional ethical responsibilities imposed on them by the agency.  The regulatory rules governing attorneys generally require higher standards of conduct than those required by the laws on citizens in our society.  For example, there are many regulatory rules that require lawyers to report misconduct of their fellow attorneys and sometimes even clients, whereas there are no such rules imposed on citizens.  Therefore, an ill-intentioned lawyer is more likely to be discovered and punished than non-lawyers.  Not to say there aren’t crooked or ill-intentioned lawyers who will break the law, but they’re risking their licenses and livelihood to do so, which makes chances slim that they’d act out “bad intentions.”

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Can law enforcement legally put a GPS on a vehicle?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 20, 2010

This article is now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That?

 

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Another Summer of Surveillances: What We Learned This Year

Posted by Writing PIs on September 12, 2010

Every summer, the number of surveillances we conduct increases.  We figure this is due to people being out and about more in the sunny weather, parents not being tied to their kids’ school schedules, people taking vacations, and maybe (we like to think) our growing reputation as capable investigators.

This past summer, we learned (or in some cases, re-valued) some lessons in conducting successful surveillances, which we’ll share in today’s post.

Lesson #1: An investigator needs to respect the heat! While conducting a days-long, grueling surveillance this summer, one of us had issues with heat exhaustion.  It was a strong reminder that any work conducted outdoors in the summertime means staying cool & staying hydrated.  Here’s a few ideas for staying cool: bringing ice packs along on the surveillance, picking shady spots to park in, ensuring there’s adequate ventilation, if appropriate running air conditioning (there’s also portable units investigators can purchase that help keep the inside of a vehicle cool), when possible taking breaks in air-conditioned buildings, wearing a rimmed hat and sunglasses.  Staying hydrated includes such safeguards as drinking water, Gatorade or fruit juices (not sodas or coffee!), as well as wearing loose-fitting and cool clothes.

Lesson #2: Mine your client for details. It’s funny how many people call and ask us to follow someone without any suggestions or knowledge about the subject’s schedule or habits.  Maybe in the movies a PI can jump into a car and follow someone for hours without any idea where that person typically goes that time of day, or is scheduled to go on that particular day, but it’s asking for failure in real-life surveillances.  It aids the surveillance significantly to have an idea where the person might be travelling, or if they have a set appointment (hair dresser, exercise club, therapist) for that day and time.  How does a PI find this information?  It’s critical to interview the client and ask about the subject’s habits, schedules, work routines, and so forth.  Sometimes we’ll work on an “on-call” basis with a client (he/she calls us when they have information where a subject will be that day–of course, this doesn’t mean we’re available at that particular time, but this is an understanding of the “on-call” approach).

Lesson #3: Stay in close touch with your PI partner.  We conducted multiple two-car mobile surveillances this summer, and we re-learned the value of staying in constant touch when we’re both “rolling.”  Before we drive through traffic following a vehicle, we’ll call each other on our cells, then leave that line of communication open as we drive.  We put our phones on speaker, set them on our laps, then talk to each other as we drive.  This way, we can immediately inform each other if the car is turning, if we’re playing “leap frog” with the vehicle, and so forth.  In the “old days” we used our two-way radios, which got problematic if we got out of the range of the signal (it also was difficult to be pressing the talk button at times while driving).

These were our summer surveillance lessons, and techniques we learned to re-value, for 2010.  We’ve heard other investigators talk about using tinted windows, installing a roof vent in the vehicle, wearing canvas shoes, if possible working at night vs. the day, one even swore she remained cool with a bandana filled with ice wrapped around her neck (an interesting image!).

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Answering Writer’s Question: Are There International Investigators?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 2, 2010

Today’s investigator typically works cases that involve tasks in other countries–maybe you’re asked by an attorney-client to serve a subpoena in another country, or you need to locate the whereabouts of someone who neighbors claim moved overseas, or you need to find a witness who’s left the country.  Most PIs sub-contract such investigative tasks to a PI licensed in that other country.  How to find PIs in other countries?  Most of us belong to international investigators associations, so it’s easy to look up the country and find a fellow PI who specializes in the type of work you need.

A writer recently asked a question about international investigations, which we’re posting below along with our answer.

Writer’s Question: I’d like to have my fictional PI specialize in international investigations.  How realistic is this? Are there PIs who specialize in this?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: In our experiences with international investigations, we will sub-contract with a PI/s in another country for work we need done there (from locating people to serving legal papers).  We have worked personally with a PI who specializes in international investigations–he has offices in L.A., New York, London, and another city or two in Europe.  When case work comes in for a locate in France, for example, he sub-contracts with a PI in that country.  One big reason that a PI doesn’t travel to different countries are the restrictions created by local licensing.  Even here in the U.S., we can’t travel to New Mexico (a neighboring state) and conduct investigations unless we’re licensed in that state (which we aren’t).  So we sub-contract with a PI from New Mexico when cases come up that require work in that state.

So with your story idea, a PI who specializes in international missing persons would most likely have an extensive network of PIs around the world with whom he/she sub-contracts.  It’s plausible that he might work with them (by flying to his associate PI’s country and working under that PI’s supervision).  Along those lines, we’ve had instances where a PI flies into our state and works “under our authority” for casework in our region/jurisdiction.  Or, your international PI might be licensed to work in different countries (it’d be surprising if he/she had licenses in more than three or four countries)–in this scenario, your PI doesn’t need to work under other PIs’ authority/supervision because he/she is licensed in that country.  Of course, this international PI needs to be conversant in languages for any countries he/she is licensed in (which you’ve probably already thought of).

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When a PI Might Be Involved with a Homicide Investigation

Posted by Writing PIs on July 13, 2010

This article is now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That? available on Kindle and Nook.

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Private Eyes Obtaining Proof: Seeing Isn’t Always Believing

Posted by Writing PIs on July 9, 2010

News Flash

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes is listed in Bill Crider’s “Blog Bytes” column in August Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine as one of the best 3 true-crime blogs!


Private Eyes Obtaining Proof: Seeing Isn’t Always Believing

What a PI sees needs to be backed up with evidence (proof) to demonstrate that what was seen is the truth.  Most of the time, compiling evidence requires assembling it from multiple sources.  We’ll give examples of this in the below scenarios of a PI assembling proof for two different kinds of cases.

Case 1: A PI is hired to find proof a spouse is cheating

In this type of case, a single photograph can do the trick.  But what if a PI takes a photo of the alleged philandering spouse hugging a co-worker after a company meeting, and shows that to the wife as evidence of the husband’s cheating?  It might look as though he’s cheating, but it takes the secondary level of investigation to verify or debunk the wife’s suspicions.

A smart PI can obtain secondary evidence through photos from different angles/locales, interviews with subjects who witnessed the infidelity (such as bartenders, etc.), even an interview with the paramour (which we once did in a case—she was a bit surprised, but she admitted she’d been fooling around with the philandering husband we were investigating. She was all the more willing to speak with us after she learned about the photos we had taken of her tryst with Mr. Philandering).

Case 2: A PI is hired to document shrinkage from an employer

Let’s say a PI wears a covert camera and spends the afternoon surreptitiously videotaping activity at a store where the owner thinks a certain employee is stealing merchandise.  Let’s say the PI captures that employee carrying a box outside the store and setting it inside the back of a friend’s SUV.

Isn’t seeing believing?  Isn’t that one segment of video tape enough?

Sure, it could be that the employee just put stolen merchandise in the back of a pal’s SUV.  But the smart PI will next go after secondary evidence, such as store receipts that show the employee did or did not make that particular purchase, any recorded conversations (that don’t qualify as eavesdropping, say the employee is chatting with a pal in the middle of an aisle) that document the employee planning a theft.  Additional secondary evidence the PI might provide the owner is a background check on the employee that shows if the employee is having financial problems, a past history of drug issues or crimes of dishonesty.  You’d be surprised how many employers don’t run adequate background checks, if any at all.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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Tips for Developing a Trial Attorney Character

Posted by Writing PIs on December 19, 2009

Tips for Developing a Trial Attorney Character

or

How to Take Popular Prejudices Against Sharks and Use Them in Characterization

“Apologists for the profession contend that lawyers are as honest as other men, but this is not very encouraging.”
-Ferdinand Lundberg, American author

We just wrapped up teaching “Trials 101,” an online class geared to writers developing legal characters, courtroom scenes, and more.  In part of the class, we offer tips for developing trial attorney characters (as one of our instructors is a retired trial attorney, we feel confident discussing this topic).  Today’s post shares some of the class material.

It might be interesting, as a point of character development, to keep in mind the prejudices already in place against your fictional trial attorney when she first meets people (clients, jurors, even social acquaintances). Here’s a telling quote from Gerry Spence about one dark prejudice:

”Today the trial lawyer could be as pure and honest as Jesus in a pin-striped suit—and still the jurors will see him through jaundiced spectacles. Or the woman, as trial lawyer, could be Mother Teresa in a conservative business dress—dark worsted wool, a small string of no-nonsense pearls at her throat, a tiny gold cross pinned at her lapel, her face that of a saint—and still the jurors would undress her to her soul to see if, indeed, she has one. Suspicion. Worse. A thin fog of hate surrounds all lawyers for the people, these warriors for the people’s justice.”

So how does your fictional attorney deal with this? Does she take on a false bravado to compensate? Does he ignore it, or enter most situations (whether personal or professional) with an irritating bluster? Or, like Gerry Spence, perhaps it encourages him to reach out, be human, and correct the misconception when opportunities arise. Of course, the last thing you want is a saint for a trial attorney, so such a Gerry Spence-like character would need an admirable flaw or three in his shining-knight characterization.

Another popular misconception is that all trial attorneys are “aggressive.” It’s a loaded word, one many attorneys love to use in their own ads, as though an attorney behaving like a pit bull on crack equates to sure wins for her client.

Check out ads yourself to see how attorneys love this word. For example, we just looked on the back of a fat telephone book—and surprise! There’s a full-page ad where the attorney promises “Aggressive Representation.” We flipped to the yellow pages under Attorneys and saw these words and images in ads: “Affordable and Aggressive” (this one seemed especially popular as it was used repeatedly in different ads), a photo of a lawyer smiling next to the words “TOUGH and AGGRESSIVE Lawyer” (capitalized just as it is in the ad), “Aggressive Representation” is used in multiple ads, then finally one lawyer who decided to soften the term a bit with these words next to his smiling photo “DILIGENT AND ZEALOUS REPRESENTATION” (capitalized again as in the ad).

Here’s a definition of aggressive: Inclined to behave in an actively hostile fashion. Is it really a given that an attorney must behave this way to be a winner in the courtroom?

According to a local respected trial defense attorney, the answer is no. Below is his take on the term:

“In most cases, it simply is better not to be overly ‘aggressive’ either in pre-trial matters, or at trial. Much of criminal law practice before trial consists of careful investigation and skillful negotiation. This is no place for an attorney to behave aggressively or unreasonable… at least not if they know what they are doing! Even at trial, most experienced trial lawyers know that being aggressive and unfriendly is likely to turn off the jury and everyone else.

While there certainly are situations that call for an aggressive cross-examination of an accuser or other witness, an experienced trial attorney knows that under most circumstances it is better to appear to the jury as a professional and reasonable defense attorney because that makes it much more likely that they will adopt the defense’s version of events and acquit their client. Usually if the jury doesn’t like the attorney, it’s bad news for the client. In fact most prosecutors want obnoxious, aggressive defense attorneys because they know the jury will not like them or their client.

It’s a tough lesson to learn for the first time after your trial is over.”

Think about this notion of “aggression” in terms of your fictional trial attorney. Does she buy into that behavior? Does he use this term in her advertising, when deep down, he knows it’s for marketing only? How about the fictional trial attorney who learns the hard way that aggression and bluster just lost the case for his client?

Hopefully these tips help add fodder for your development of fascinating, true-to-life legal characters.

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A Slew of Sleuth Articles

Posted by Writing PIs on December 3, 2009

First, a freebie: To win a free registration for “Trials 101″ post a comment by December 12 (winner’s name to be picked December 13).  To read more about the class, go to end of this post *

Investigative Articles

Below are some of our current articles–handy tips for both real-life PIs and writers writing their fictional counterparts. 

How to Start a Private Investigations Business: http://tinyurl.com/yl3w6md

Protecting Yourself Online: http://tinyurl.com/y9ujb3p        

When Does Surveillance Become Stalking? http://tinyurl.com/ybzn7jd 

How to Protect Your Cell Phone from Spyware: http://tinyurl.com/ylj3lfs 

How to Quickly Interpret Another’s Language via a Telephone: http://tinyurl.com/y9ghere

 

* December 14-21, 2009: Online Class “Trials 101″

 
Writing a story with a courtroom scene and need to add some realistic touches? Or perhaps you’re fleshing out a trial attorney, or maybe just want a handle on a few terms for when your protagonist makes a court appearance? This class is an introduction to trials (U.S. legal system), outlining the key players in the courtroom, the history of trials, a few reasons why trials happen (as well as some wrong reasons trials happen, which could provide great story conflict), and ends with several examples of outstanding trials in books and movies. One week, 2 classes, questions answered by email in-between. 

Instructor Bios

Shaun Kaufman has worked in and around the criminal justice field for nearly 25 years, as a former trial attorney and a current legal investigator. He’s published articles in PI magazine, the Denver Law Review, and authored numerous briefs for the Colorado Court of Appeals, Colorado Supreme Court, and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Shaun is a popular speaker at conferences, entertaining and educating writers with his insights and expertise about investigations, crime scenes, how PIs effectively testify in trials, and more. His father always told him to be a writer, not a lawyer.

Colleen Collins is a PI by day, a multi-published author by night. Her articles on private investigations have appeared on various sites on the Internet as well as in PI Magazine, Pursuit Magazine, NINK (Novelists, Inc.), and other publications.  A member of the Private Eye Writers of America (PWA), Mystery Writers of America (MWA), and Romance Writers of America (RWA), she’s written 20 novels, and has spoken at regional and national writers conferences about writing private eyes in fiction.

Trials 101 registration: www.writingprivateinvestigators.com

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How to Do a Free Reverse Phone Number Look-Up

Posted by Writing PIs on November 4, 2009

Telephone Booth

There’s lots and lots of ads out there for free phone look-ups–what they give you is free information that’s available from numerous other sites, then they ask you to “click here” and, for a mere $34.95 (or some price), you can get the full background report on this person.

buyer bewareBuyer beware.

There’s no magical 100% correct database out there that’ll spit out the latest and greatest information associated with a phone number.   We’re not saying you can’t get correct information.  You might.  But you, the buyer, should know you’re paying for information that could be old, outdated, or input incorrectly into a database (after all, human hands originally typed in the data).  Or the phone number might have been correct at one time, but has since been ported to a new carrier. 

So, saying all that, we’ll provide some free tips on doing a reverse check on a phone number, with some caveats thrown in for good measure.   Last note: Type phone numbers in different formats (123-456-7890, 1234567890, 4567890).

Step 1:  Run the phone number in Google.  We love Google.  It’s comprehensive search engine gives you a great starting point.  It might give you more information than you were even looking for (for example, the number may display on someone’s online resume, ad, or social networking site).  We once found a missing person by running her computer researchcell phone number in Google–although she’d hidden her whereabouts well (hopping from city to city, staying in different people’s homes, had no identifiable vehicle, had discontinued service on her cell phone although the number was still listed on her site), she was taking the time to log into her MySpace account to chat with her friends!  She hadn’t made her account private, so it was easy to see what her activities were , who she was staying with, etc.  on a daily basis!

 Step 2:  Run the number in various databases.   Although it’s hard to compete with Google’s search engine, doesn’t hurt to follow up and check the number in other databases.  For example, run the number in boardtracker.com, a forum search engine, or spokeo.com, a social networking search engine.

Step 3: Double-check if the number is a landline or cell.   Helps to know if it’s a landline or cell phone number. landline phone If the latter, the person could be living anywhere (for example, their number might start with a Colorado area code, but they’re living in Delaware).  There are dozens of sites that offer free checks for type of phone line, name of carrier, and geographical region of the phone number.  One of our favorites is Phone Validator: http://www.phonevalidator.com/.  (Again, keep in mind that the information returned may be outdated, or the number has ported to a new carrier).

Step 4:  Still no leads?  Rather than pay an unknown online database service that promises background information such as a person’s name, address, and more, we recommend contacting a qualified private investigator to research the phone number for you.  Why?  Online database background/reverse check services are automated, and as we’ve already stated, you might be paying for old, outdated, or incorrect data.   Also, there’s no “live” person to field your questions, or read the results with an eye on accuracy or legality.

At our investigations agency, we’ve run many reverse phone number checks nationwide.  Drop by our website, give us a call or send us an email: Highlands Investigations & Legal Services, Inc:  www.highlandsinvestigations.com

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Links to articles on catching cheaters, ordering background reports & safeguarding your Internet ID

Posted by Writing PIs on November 1, 2009

Today we’re posting links to articles we’ve recently written on catching cheaters, ordering tailored background reports, and protecting your identity on the Internet.   The techniques are good for real-world application as well as fictional stories.   Have a great week!

couple

 

How to Outwit Your Cheating Spouse and Catch Him/Her in the Act:
http://tinyurl.com/y9f2daz

 

couple dating

How to Check if Your Date Is Telling the Truth:
http://tinyurl.com/ylp4twk

 

reportHow to Select a Tailored Background Report:
http://tinyurl.com/ydyluzg

 

 

woman at computerHow to Safeguard Your Identity on the Internet:
http://tinyurl.com/yd9qsf8

 

 

holmes

Online Class: Quick Studies on the Shady Side: Tips and Techniques for Writers Developing Sleuths and Villains

November 16-23, 2009: Surfing the Web & Digging for Dirt
Ways a sleuth uncovers data, from Internet/database searches to getting down and dirty in someone’s trash. One week, 2 classes, questions answered by email in-between.

To register, go to www.writingprivateinvestigators.com

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