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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.

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