Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

  • Writing a Sleuth?

    A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

    "How to Write a Dick is the best work of its kind I’ve ever come across because it covers the whole spectrum in an entertaining style that will appeal to layman and lawmen alike."

    Available on Kindle

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#MondayBlogs Answering Writer’s Question: Do PIs Use Listening Devices?

Posted by Writing PIs on April 13, 2015

“Eavesdropping” by Théodore Jacques Ralli 1880 – image is in public domain

Since we opened our doors nearly 15 years ago, we have been invited numerous times to give workshops at writers’ conferences about crafting plausible PI characters in stories. Occasionally, we have also taught our own online classes. Below is a question that several writers have asked over the years, and it’s a good one.

We have known PIs who got into trouble after being caught illegally using listening devices, but such problems are good in fiction as tension and conflict bump up the stakes.

Writer’s Question:  Do you ever use listening devices in your investigations?  I’d like to have my fictional sleuth use a listening device while she’s driving around — is that plausible?

Answer: No, we don’t use listening devices because they intrude on others’ expectations of privacy. Also, such devices are frequently electronic in nature, and any electronically supplemented listening device meets the definition of the crime of eavesdropping. We once had an attorney ask us to use an electronic listening device in a motel room to try to listen in on a “cheating spouse” in the next room.  We refused, explaining that would be eavesdropping. Last we heard, the attorney found another PI who was willing to do it.

As to your character using a listening device in her car, yes, it’s plausible, but keep in mind that your character is technically breaking the law. But think of this…unless your character repeats conversations verbatim or admits to using a listening device, who will know?

Now let’s look at it another way — your character is caught with the device — that’s great. Throws more conflict into your story. Or a third party says there’s no way the PI-character could possibly have known about a private conversation unless the PI had been illegally using a listening device. Again, more story tension. What does the PI do?  Toss the listening device?  Yes, probably…in a dumpster far, far away from her premises.  We’re talking fiction, so having a character do things that he/she knows are illegal are great for adding conflict.  What’s key is for the writer to know certain actions and uses of certain devices are illegal to begin with (then the character must wrestle with the whys and hows of what he/she’s doing…and be prepared to pay the consequences).

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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.

A Guide for Writing Fictional Sleuths from a Couple of Real-Life Sleuths

Available on Kindle

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#BookExcerpt The Work of a Legal Investigator

Posted by Writing PIs on March 29, 2015

gavel and scales

Today we’re offering an excerpt from A Lawyer’s Primer for Lawyers: From Crimes to Courtrooms on the work of a legal investigator (from the chapter “Private Investigators”).

A Legal Investigator’s Tasks

Some of you may be familiar with the PI character Kalinda Sharma on the TV series The Good Wife. This is an example of a legal investigator who works in-house at a private law firm. The investigator will have an office, or share an office with another investigator or legal professional. As attorneys need the services of an investigator, they’ll contact their in-house PI to schedule the task.

Other legal investigators might work exclusively for public defenders’ offices or district attorneys’ offices. As there is a lot of investigative work needed for these types of agencies, these investigators would likely have offices within these organizations.

hat and magnifying glass on computer

Then there are legal investigators who work as independent contractors, typically under the umbrella of their own investigations agency. Some of these PIs might have their own offices, and some might work out of a home office. We never knew any PIs who had virtual offices, such as with a law firm, but that’s entirely possible, too.

Wherever a legal investigator works, below is a basic list of their common work tasks:

  • Locating and interviewing witnesses
  • Drafting witness interview reports for attorneys
  • Reconstructing scenes of crimes
  • Helping prepare civil and criminal arguments and defenses
  • Serving legal documents (process service)
  • Testifying in court
  • Conducting legal research (for example, drafting pleadings incorporating investigative data, devising defense strategies and supporting subsequent legal proceedings)
  • Preparing legal documents that provide factual support for pleadings, briefs and appeals
  • Preparing affidavits
  • Electronically filing pleadings.

An Example of a Legal Investigations Agency

Below is a list of services we listed on our legal investigations website. Next to each service are examples of the kind of law practices for which we did that type of investigative work.

Asset Search

Often divorce attorneys would ask us to check the assets of a client’s husband/wife, sometimes to see what money the soon-to-be ex-spouse might be hiding. At times we also conducted asset searches for probate lawyers to determine if a family member was suddenly buying high-ticket items they couldn’t afford, indicating they might have surreptitiously taken money from a family trust.

Background Research

Many different kinds of lawyers would request background research on an individual or a business, including criminal defense, personal injury, divorce and business litigation lawyers.

Court Records Search

Pitkin County District Courthouse (photo by Carol Highsmith)

Pitkin County District Courthouse (photo by Carol Highsmith)

Similar to background searches, many different types of lawyers requested court records searches, including divorce, personal injury, DUI, business litigation and personal injury law firms.

Expert Witness Location

Although different types of law practices use PIs to locate expert witnesses, we primarily received such requests from personal injury and defense lawyers.

Criminal Records

We would primarily look up criminal court records for divorce and defense attorneys.

Domestic Relations

Divorce attorneys would request us to conduct different investigative tasks for their clients who were in the process of a divorce. Such tasks included surveillances, trash hits (literally this means to check a person’s or business’s garbage for evidence), as well as retrieving criminal records and conducting background checks.

Drunk Driving Defense

We worked with several attorneys who specialized in drunk driving defense. For them we would retrieve Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) court and criminal records, as well as conduct surveillances and trash hits.

Financial Fraud

Primarily probate, business, divorce and defense attorneys hired us to investigate possible financial fraud.

Personal Injury

Obviously, this refers to personal injury lawyers who hired us for such tasks as witness interviews, scene documentation, surveillance and background checks.

Process Service

Primarily, divorce attorneys hired us to deliver, or serve, divorce papers on behalf of their clients. We also served legal papers for probate, personal injury, defense and business law firms.

Mitigation Packages

Criminal defense attorneys sometimes, but not often, hired us to research and prepare these reports. Chapter 16 has more information about mitigation packages.

Skip tracing

This term is industry jargon for finding people, also informally called locates — as in “I want to hire you to do some locates” — which we did for all kinds of law firms, but primarily for criminal defense attorneys.

Surveillance

surveillance female hanging out of car with camera

We mainly conducted surveillances for divorce attorneys, but occasionally received surveillance requests from defense, business, personal injury and probate attorneys.

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

~ End of Excerpt ~


Have a great week, Writing PIs

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. Other images are licensed by Colleen Collins, and are not to be copied, pasted, distributed or otherwise used.

Posted in Investigating Fraud, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations, PIs and Lawyers, process servers | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

#Privacy: Keeping the Cookie Monster Out of Your Browser

Posted by Writing PIs on March 22, 2015

cookie with bite taken out pub domain

What’s a Cookie?

Cookies are small amounts of data that websites drop into your browser so they can monitor your browsing activity. As they are text, they cannot install anything on your computer. And they are not necessarily evil little creatures as some clue in your browser about preferences you have established for certain sites (such as reading newest comments first or ensuring secure logins).

And then there are the cookies that surreptitiously monitor your Internet comings and goings, then feed that data to advertisers and others. If you don’t want your personal Internet travels to be stored in their databases, below are three tips for taking a byte out of those cookies.

1. Heed Websites’ Cookie Notices

Many websites have a symbol, icon or notice that by your visiting the site, you agree to its cookie-gathering policy. Such notices say something like “We use cookies to improve your experience. By your continued use, you accept such use. To change your settings, please see our policy.”

If you don’t want to agree to a site’s cookie-gathering, leave the site.

2. Do Not Track Options

black and white computer keyboard and hand w mouse

Fortunately, browsers offer “Do Not Track” options so users can opt-out of websites’ advertising services and other analytics. Unfortunately, the Do Not Track option is similar to the Do Not Call registry — selecting the option doesn’t necessary mean that the website is going to respect your request.

Nevertheless, based on a recent report from the Information Commissioner’s Office, Do Not Track options block approximately 70% of third-party web tracking, so view it as a basic protective step. Here is a list of advertisers who claim to honor Do Not Track requests: Do Not Track: Implementations

Below are the steps for how to do this for Chrome & Safari (the Do-Not-Track option is on by default for Mozilla):

Chrome: Preferences/Settings->Advanced Settings–>(Select appropriate boxes)

Safari: Preferences–>Privacy–>(Select appropriate boxes)

Lifehacker offers more Do Not Track tips in this article: Everywhere You Can Enable Do Not Track.

3. Add-Ons/Extensions

A second line of defense are add-ons and extensions that you download to your browser. These are not 100% remedies, but another, tougher layer of cookie-protection on top of Do Not Track settings.

Most of these services are free, with most offering more comprehensive services for a monthly fee:

Blur

Ghostery

Disconnect

AdBlock Plus

Privacy Badger

Have a great rest of March Madness, WritingPIs

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.

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Answering Writers’ Questions: Riding Along with a PI, Hiring PIs in Cases Involving Foul Play

Posted by Writing PIs on March 14, 2015

eye and magnifying glass

Today we’re answering writers’ questions about riding along with PIs, civilians hiring PIs in cases  involving foul play, and police hiring PIs.

WRITER’S QUESTION: I’ve heard that a client riding along with the PI is illegal in some states. How would we know which states it is illegal in? I’m sure there will be other things that come up that vary from state to state? Should we call a PI from our state to ask?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Calling a PI in your state is a good resource. If you are in a state where PIs are licensed, contact the licensing authority for guidance on these matters (typically this licensing authority will be within the state dept. of regulatory agencies or the state police).

Personally, we have had writers ask to join us while we work a case (for example, on a surveillance), but we always say no for various reasons (client confidentiality and insurance being two). The only time we broke this policy was for a reporter who was writing a story about us for a newspaper — she accompanied us on a process service and a trash hit.

WRITER’S QUESTION: In my story, I have a client hiring a PI to investigate her husband’s death. detective with flashlightShe felt there was more involved than him being killed during a B&E. Is this correct — do people hire PIs if they feel their loved ones met with foul play?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Absolutely they do.

WRITER’S QUESTION: Do police hire PIs for help? I have another story where the police call in a PI to help catch a guy who has been selling black market items.

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: More likely, the police would cooperate with PIs on a case (although this isn’t common, it has certainly occurred. For example, a few years back, the NY police cooperated with local PIs to break a theft ring in the garment district).

However, a key reason the police would not hire (versus cooperate with) PIs is that by their employing a private citizen (such as a PI), the police lose “the color of government authority” including the ability to obtain warrants, rely on rules for search/seizure (such as the fellow officer rule), and finally the law enforcement agency concerned does not want the liability of a contract employee who is more than likely carrying a weapon and who very well may not carry enough insurance.

Saying all this, it is plausible that a government agency other than a law-enforcement agency might hire a PI to do an independent investigation. Here in Colorado, a county commissioner office hired a Denver PI to conduct an investigation of sexual harassment and financial misappropriation by an elected county official, who could not have been independently investigated by the sheriff’s office for that county (because of the close ties between the two offices, both elected offices).

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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.

Posted in Are Cops and PIs Compatible?, Q&As, Real-Life Private Investigator Stories, Suspicious Death | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off

March 8 – International Women’s Day: Honoring Female Investigators

Posted by Writing PIs on March 8, 2015

surveillance female hanging out of car with camera

International Women’s Day has been observed since the early 1900s. On this day, thousands of events occur around the world to celebrate women and their accomplishments.

For International Women’s Day, we are honoring several women PIs through articles written about them to radio shows hosted by them. This post isn’t meant to be all-inclusive by any means, just a cross-section of outstanding women, including their fictional counterparts, in the investigative field.

Radio Shows: New and Old

Below are two radio shows, one hosted by a contemporary female PI, the other about a old-time radio female private eye.

PI’s Declassified

California PI Francie Kohler hosts this weekly Internet radio show where she interviews private investigators and other professionals in associated fields. The show airs every Thursday at 9 a.m. Pacific Time: PI’s Declassified.

Old-Time Radio: Candy Matson Yukon 2-8209cover ebook  2000px longest side

This old-time radio show kicked off in 1949. Every show opened with a ringing telephone with a female answering, “Candy Matson, YU 2-8209,” after which the theme song “Candy” played. According to the Internet Archive, Old Time Radio (OTR) researchers view this radio show as the best of the female private eyes. It ran until 1951. Listen to single episodes here: Candy Matson YUkon 2-8209.

Articles About Real-Life Female Private Investigators

Possible sketch of Kate Warne, the first U.S. female PI

Possible sketch of Kate Warne, the first U.S. female PI

Below is a sampling of articles written about female PIs:

The First U.S. Female Private Eye: Kate Warne (The Zen Man)

Q&A: Norma Tillman–Right and Wrong (Pursuit Magazine)

What Does It Take to Be an International Private Eye (interview with international private investigator Yin Johnson and her husband Phil, via RC Bridgestock Blog)

The PI Wears Prada: One Woman’s Midlife Career Change (What’s Next)

Female PI builds successful business from her Quilcene farm (Olympic Business Journal)

What Is It Like Being a Female Private Investigator? (The Zen Man)

This Private Investigator is One of the Few Jersey Women Working as Sleuths (NJ.com)

Articles About Fictional Female Private Eyes

There are many entertaining female “eyes” in literature, going back to the mid 1800s.

Secret Agent

Dangerous Dames: A Timeline of Some of the Significant Female Eyes (The Thrilling Detective – if you haven’t checked out The Thrilling Detective, you’re missing out on one of the most comprehensive and entertaining sites about fictional private eyes on the ‘net)

Female Private Eyes in Fiction: From Lady Detectives to Hard-Boiled Dames (by Guns, Gams & Gumshoes’s Colleen for Festivale magazine)

Did you know a well-known writer of private eye novels based a female PI character on a real one? Check out the interview “Susan Daniels: If Sam Spade Had Been Samantha – Cleveland’s Female Private Eye”

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Click on cover to go to Amazon page

Click on cover to go to Amazon page

“As an experienced private detective and a skilled storyteller, Colleen Collins is the perfect person to offer a glimpse into the lives of real female P.I.s”
~ Kim Green, managing editor of Pursuit Magazine: The Magazine of Professional Investigators


 

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.

Posted in Private Eyes in the News, Real-Life Private Investigator Stories, Secrets of a Real-Life Female Female Private Eye | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

#BargainBook Sale March 1-7: A LAWYER’S PRIMER FOR WRITERS

Posted by Writing PIs on February 28, 2015

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms is on sale starting March 1, 2015. This is a Kindle Countdown Sale — the price starts low (99 cents on March 1), and incrementally increases each day until it is back at its regular price, $7.95, on March 7.

Below are the dates and prices:

March 1, 2015: 99 cents (88% discount)

March 2, 2015: $1.99 (75% discount)

March 3, 2015: $2.99 (63% discount)

March 4 + 5: 2015: $3.99 (50% discount)

March 6, 2015: $4.99 (38% discount)

Book Excerpts

Below are several excerpts from A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers:

The Players in the Courtroom: Judges

Top Ten Legal Films: To Kill a Mockingbird

What Can Writers Learn from the 1979 Film AND JUSTICE FOR ALL?

Praise for A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers

“Put together with the user in mind, this intelligently organized handbook for practicing writers will make you sound like a practicing lawyer. Use it to transform your courtroom characters from stereotypes into engaging people.” ~Warwick Downing, former DA in Colorado and author of The Widow of Dartmoor, a sequel to Hound of the Baskervilles

“A LAWYER’S PRIMER FOR WRITERS is an entertaining, knowledgable, must-have research tool for writers of all stripes. I know I’ll be referring to it often!” ~Dennis Palumbo, author of the Daniel Rinaldi mystery series

ColleenCollins_ALawyersPrimerforWriters_Ad_CLR 1 MB

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Valentine’s Day Checklist: Candy, Flowers and a Background Check

Posted by Writing PIs on February 11, 2015

Ah, it’s almost Valentine’s Day. A time to celebrate love with that special person in your life. A time to share a romantic evening with candlelight, roses, champagne…maybe even pop the question.  Now we’re talking about spending your life with someone, sharing sensitive financial data and resources, possibly raising children together, combining assets and more.

How well do you know this person? Do you know his/her background?

Be Heart Smart: Know Your Partner’s Background

Even if you’re not planning on getting married, knowing your beloved’s background is important. Not the background they choose to share, the black-and-white background documented in public records, such as a criminal history, arrest history, driving history, previous marriages and divorces. Keep in mind that co-habitation is as much a business venture as it is as a romantic enterprise.

You might be thinking, “But he/she’s a fantastic person! No way I’m going to sneak around behind their back to find out their history!”

But if you’re interested in this special person, seriously considering taking the next step — be it a committed relationship, moving in together or getting married — it’s smart to do a background check. Better to know the facts ahead of time than be surprised down the road.

Below are a few cases that have come into our office.

I’ve met this great guy, but I know so little about him…

This client called several years ago, referred to us by an attorney who’d handled her previous divorce. After she’d told the attorney she’d fallen for this great guy, but she knew so little about him, he stopped her right there, told her to contact us for a background check. We ran a quick criminal background check…and our jaws dropped! This dude had reams of felony charges and arrests, including a stint in prison for a felony conviction in another state. Seemed he was big on embezzlement…and when we shared this news with her, she admitted she’d been “loaning” him a lot of money, to the tune of thousands of dollars.

She ended the relationship. Then she started carefully reviewing her credit card statements and bank statements, and learned he’d misappropriated her credit card information, forged checks, and promised various lenders and businesses that she’d co-sign on loans.

She never got her money back. Not a penny.

Shame she hadn’t obtained a background check on this guy beforehand.

My ex-girlfriend is going after my assets!

This poor guy lived with a girl for a year, then they broke up and she moved out. She promptly went to an attorney and claimed she and her ex-boyfriend had been secretly married in a ceremony at a hotel the year before and that she was entitled to half of his assets. The guy (we’ll call him Tom) had to hire his own attorney to counter her claims. We were hired as investigators on Tom’s case. After we obtained evidence that showed she’d denied being married while living with Tom –and in fact, identified herself as a single woman on a notarized document to the federal government, the court dismissed her case.

Unfortunately, hiring an attorney was costly to Tom. His ex-girlfriend, angry that she’d lost the opportunity to win half his assets, called his work and made false claims about his sexual behavior at a company function she’d attended with him back when they were an item…and poor Tom was then forced to fight that charge (more $$ to the attorney) and he wasn’t allowed to return physically to his office for months until that case, too, was dismissed.

In our investigations, we learned she’d done this exact same thing to another guy a few years before! Except the previous guy, rather than hire an attorney, just settled with her for $20,000 to go away.

How’d she get by with this? She knew the law. She worked as a paralegal for a divorce lawyer, so she knew the ins and outs of common law marriages, and the possibilities for profit.

Shame he hadn’t obtained a background check on this asset-happy woman beforehand.

Could you check out my new boyfriend…he seems nice, but after the last time…

Remember the woman who found out her boyfriend had been embezzling money from her (first story, above)? Well, after that experience, she called us when she started dating again, asked us to conduct a background check on the new guy in her life. Guess what? No criminal records, no messy divorces in his past, no arrests. Everything he’d shared about his past (that we could verify through public records) was true. They’re now an item, considering moving in together.

So you see, background checks can also be a safety measure so you can move forward to the next step.

How to Obtain a Background Check

Many PIs conduct background checks. An easy way to find a PI who specializes in this area is to contact your state professional private investigators association and request (or look up) the name of a PI who conducts background checks. Below is a link, courtesy of PI Magazine, that lists state PI associations:

Private Investigator Associations

Have a great week, Writing PIs


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.

Posted in Background Checks: Be Heart Smart | Tagged: , , , | Comments Off

#MondayBlogs Answering Writer’s Question: When Does a PI’s Activity Become Intimidation?

Posted by Writing PIs on January 26, 2015

bad guy

Today we respond to a writer’s question about PIs and intimidation.

Writer’s Question: When does surveillance, or any legitimate investigative activity, become intimidation?

Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: Many investigative activities (such as surveillance, knocking on doors and attempting interviews, service of subpoenas) can be done in such a manner to intimidate the target of an investigation. The legitimate activity can be so pronounced and intense that the subject not only knows they’re being investigated, they fear the person who’s hired the investigator (or they fear the investigator him/herself). This is intimidation. An example of an intimidation is to leave a dead fish on the windshield of someone’s car with a rose in its mouth (which L.A. investigator Anthony Pellicano did to intimidate a newspaper reporter ). This reporter was a witness before an official proceeding and Pellicano was charged for intimidating a witness with this not-so-subtle gift of seafood.

While the FBI agents in The Sopranos could sit at the foot of Tony’s driveway and even FBI special agentchat with him on occasion (which is not covert surveillance), they could not attempt to run his car off the road or interfere with his business because those acts constitute intimidation (or police harassment).

Private investigators are regularly asked by bill collectors to visit debtors. This is a dicey area because federal credit collection practice laws permit contact but they don’t permit collectors to threaten with bodily injury or improper damage to the debtor’s reputation. Any time that a debtor can prove that a PI is guilty of these acts then the PI is personally liable, his firm his liable, and the collection agency is liable. Your fictional PI might be employed to knock on doors and collect money, discourage witnesses to testify in a court case, or take photographs of an individual and his/her home, car, workplace, etc. When these acts are done to intentionally frighten the witness and/or drive them from either testifying or bringing a claim in court, those actions are legally classified as intimidation.

Writing PIs

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Investigator Takes the Stand: Tales from a Trial

Posted by Writing PIs on January 10, 2015

A Criminal Case 1865 by Honore Daumer, Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

A Criminal Case 1865 by Honore Daumer, Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

As many of you know, one of the Writing PIs, Shaun, has returned to being a criminal lawyer. He often says that having worked as a private investigator for 10 years makes him a better lawyer.

An example of that being this week at trial, when Shaun cross-examined an investigator on the stand.

Who Owns the Phone?

modern cell phone

One key issue in this trial is the ownership of a cell phone that was used to make certain purchases (its phone number shows on sales receipts).

The investigator (retired police officer/current investigator) traced the phone, via its phone number, to an address, at which he served a warrant. In a search of the residence, the investigator found the phone in Mr. X’s bedroom. In his investigation report to the prosecution, he identified the phone as belonging to Mr. X, the defendant.

At trial this week, the investigator took the stand, and Shaun asked, “Who owns the phone?”

The investigator responded that Mr. X, the defendant, owns the phone.

Shaun asked, “How do you know this?”

The investigator said that the phone had been found in Mr. X’s bedroom.

But several people live at this multi-bedroom residence, Shaun said, so how did the investigator know that the phone actually belonged to Mr. X?  Investigator repeated because it had been found in Mr. X’s bedroom.

Do You Know What a Reverse Search Is?

Shaun asked the investigator if he knew what a “reverse search” was on a phone number. The investigator responded that yes, he did. Shaun explained to the jury that such a reverse search obtains information about a phone, such as subscriber information, via its phone number. (In our private investigations business, we have run hundreds of reverse phone number searches over the years.)

Shaun then asked the investigator if he had run a reverse search on the phone. The investigator said no, he hadn’t.

finger pressing key on keyboardAt that point, Shaun listed three proprietary databases that offer phone number reverse searches for minimal charges, anywhere from fifty cents to a few dollars. He asked the investigator if he had access to any of these databases — the investigator said yes, he did. Without checking to whom the phone was registered, Shaun said, you instead assumed the phone belonged to Mr. X.  Such assumptions can make the difference between a not guilty verdict and a wrongful conviction.

What Is a Proprietary Database?

These are privately owned, password-protected online databases that are not available to the public. Proprietary databases cull information from thousands, if not millions, of public records. Years ago, one customer rep told me that her company’s proprietary database pulled information from billions of public record sources.

Many private investigators use such databases to aid their research, but even then, it’s smart to double-check search results. In cases when we’ve run reverse phone number searches, and a name pops up as being the registered owner, we’ll double-check that result by doing such things as running a reverse in another database and calling the number to hear the voice message.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

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.

Posted in PI Takes the Stand, Tales from a Trial | Tagged: , | Comments Off

Jury Selection: Tales from a Trial

Posted by Writing PIs on January 6, 2015

gavel and scales

The criminal lawyer side of Writing PIs, Shaun, is starting a trial today. The PI-writer side of Writing PIs, yours truly, is on deadline finishing a book that features a lawyer protagonist, and she wishes she were at trial, too. Where better to do research and soak up “local color” for a legal story? But instead, one of us is at a real-life trial, while the other stays at home, writing a fictional one.

James Holmes Trial Postponed

Note: This post was originally published on January 6, 2015. As of today, March 1, 2015, the jury selection is still ongoing for the James Holmes trial, and is expected to continue for several more months.

The James Holmes trial was supposed to start this week, and Shaun anticipated it being a zoo at the courthouse with hundreds of spectators, media, and so on. Because of the Holmes trial, a large number of potential jurors had been called…and then today, the Holmes trial was postponed.

By the way, when the two of us were at that courthouse a year+ ago, we noticed they had paved a huge, extra parking lot in anticipation of a large number of people — spectators, media — attending the Holmes hearings/trial.  The additional parking lot, beefed up security, and intense investigation/legal services required for the Holmes trial has already exceeded $5 million dollars, and that doesn’t include the costs incurred by the Colorado public defenders’ office that refuses to divulge its costs.

Jury Selection: People’s Real-Life Stories

One result of the Holmes trial being originally set for this week was that there was an unusually large pool of potential jurors, 67 people, for Shaun’s trial.

During selection, the judge asked if anyone had reason to not be a juror. A man raised his hand, said that he was illiterate & was afraid other jurors would make fun of him. Shaun said it saddened him hearing the man’s story, made him realize the hurt the man must have endured in his life. Judge excused the man from jury duty.

Another man raised his hand, said English wasn’t his first language, so he should be excused, too. Judge rolled her eyes and sighed loudly, said she wasn’t going to put up with any dilly-dallying, and he was not excused.


We wrote about jury selection in our recent non-fiction book A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms. Below is a link to that book excerpt:

The Steps of a Trial: Jury Selection


#BookSale: A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s Amazon page

March 1 – 7, 2015, A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers is a Kindle Countdown Deal, starting at 99 cents on March 1, with the price increasing daily until it again reaches its original price, $7.95, on March 7. To order, click on the above book cover image or click here.

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.

Posted in A Lawyer's Primer for Writers, Book Excerpt: Steps in a Trial, PI Topics | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off

 
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