Today we’re posting a question, and our answer, from a writer about a sleuth character conducting undercover work in a disguise.
Writer’s Question: Is it okay for a PI to do surveillance undercover in a disguise to gain access to the private area? I mean, if the client welcomes him into the home as a cleaning person, it wouldn’t be trespassing and the PI could snoop without ‘disturbing’ anything. Or would that be frowned upon because it’s considered getting evidence under false pretenses?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: We love the cleaning person scenario! But let’s look at it this way–what could be objectionable about this pretense? Any pretense that is too extreme and/or involves harm to the person or property of the surveillance subject is more likely to be found illegal. Lately, a lot of lawyers have become nervous about pretexts and pretenses because federal investigators frown on wide-scale use of made-up reasons and scenarios to obtain private information. Using a cleaning person as a pretense to gain admission to a home by consent effectively cancels that consent, turning the entry into a trespass.
In a story, it could be very interesting if the fictional PI risks conducting this trespass deception, then sees something in the house that can later be recovered by lawful means. At this point, if the PI is selectively silent about the trespass, the PI could use the lawfully obtained information in court without revealing the earlier illegal prextextual entry.
Have a great week, Writing PIs