Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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Archive for the ‘Q&As’ Category

Answering a Writer’s Question: Has a Bad Guy Ever Tried to Hire You?

Posted by Writing PIs on October 15, 2016

This was a question that came up several times in our workshops with writers. It’s a good question, as too often in books and film, a PI-character blithely hands over sensitive information to a “client” who has a dark agenda. Writers, just because you see/read this in stories doesn’t mean it’s how PIs operate in real life; in fact, naively handing over potentially damaging information to a client just because he/she asked for it is becoming a cliche.

Read on to learn how we, and other PIs, screen their clients…

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Do “Bad Guys” Sometimes Try to Hire PIs? (Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

WRITER’S QUESTION: Have you ever had a “bad guy” try to hire you to find someone? What if you didn’t realized it was a bad guy—after you found the person, what would you do?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: Yes, we’ve had “bad guys” ask us to find someone. What triggered us to think this potential client might have bad reasons/aren’t being honest?

  1. We always run a criminal background check on any non-attorney clients (right there we can find nefarious reasons, such as restraining orders, divorces in progress, domestic violence convictions, etc.)
  2. If the person requesting the skiptrace (search for someone) omits certain information, or makes inflated claims as to why they want to locate another person, we’ll generally refuse the case. And if we do accept a skiptrace, we never hand over the sought-person’s personal contact information (street address, phone number, etc.). Instead, we provide our client’s contact information to the individual (sometimes the client will write a letter explaining his/her reasons for wishing to make contact). At that point, it is solely the found-person’s decision whether or not he/she wishes to make contact.
  3. Sometimes we’ll hear signs of intoxication/mental illness in a requestor’s speech, and we refuse the work
  4. Suspicious emails—be they directed from a bogus-sounding account or the request is stated in such a way it’s obvious they’re wanting us to break the law. We delete the requestor’s email and that’s that.

To clarify our response to the second part of your question, when we smell a bad situation, we simply don’t take the case. If we were to take the case, and then realize it’s a bad situation, we refund the client’s money and terminate our work without relaying any information we might have learned in our investigation. Using such filters, we have never been in the position of finding out something that might harm a third party. If we were ever in that position, we would contact law enforcement with what we’d discovered.

Writing PIs, a Couple of PIs Who Also Write

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Answering Writer’s Question: Finding Someone’s New, Bogus Online ID

Posted by Writing PIs on July 30, 2015

A writer asked, “I’m trying to figure out how a PI would discover the identity of someone who has intentionally (but not through legal channels) ditched a previous identity and assumed a new one. This person claims to be an immigrant from IT but is American.”

It appears this writer would like a PI character to detect the new identity based on the old one. We have a few ideas. But first, a few caveats:

We’re limiting this search to a possible new online ID.  After all, assuming a new ID in a broader context — new home address, new driver’s license, and so on — is a large topic, one entire books have been written about. We’re not recommending any of the following books, just noting they exist: How to Disappear: Erase Your Digital Footprint, Leave False Trials, and Vanish Without a Trace by Frank Ahern; How to Be Invisible: Protect Your Home, Your Children, Your Assets, and Your Life by J.J. Luna.

As to the individual claiming he’s an immigrant from IT: We’ll assume for this post that IT = Italy. While a PI is conducting his/her search on the new ID, they would keep an eye out for any Italian references, names and so forth in the results. Of course, based on the writer’s scenario, the guy isn’t really from Italy, but if he’s pretending he is, such a reference might pop up.

We’re providing these ideas for the sake of a story. However, in real life we’d recommend a person retain the services of a professional PI who specializes in locating people (AKA skip tracers). To find a skip tracer, contact your local state professional private investigator association: Private Investigator Associations by State (PINow). For example, a PI can run a person’s SSN in a proprietary database and learn a lot about the individual no matter what online IDs this person is juggling.

Now let’s look at three free online ways a fictional PI (or even a non-PI) might try to discover the identity of someone’s new online ID based on their old (ditched) one. For our example, we’ll call the old ID “Joe Smithy.”

1. What phone number did Joe Smithy use?

We once had a case where a man had been operating as multiple IDs on different dating sites, often ditching one ID and creating another to fit his needs. Except he kept the same phone numbers! Which we discovered when we ran a single reverse on a number he had provided our client (before he “disappeared” online) — and we discovered he was still using that old number.

modern cell phone

Yes, from a single reverse phone number search on Google, we got a listing of his interactions & IDs on different dating sites. Our poor client was devastated — she had never heard of a reverse phone number search before…but after learning how easy it is to run one, she saw for herself how busy this guy had been elsewhere. For more info on reverse number searches: How to Reverse Search Phone Numbers.

2. Did Joe Smithy have a photo?You can run a reverse photo search on Google

Google has a comprehensive reverse photo search option where anyone can plug in the photo and run a search on it…it’s possible Joe Smithy’s photo is appearing under his new ID. To learn more about running a reverse image search on Google: Fast and Easy Google Search Tips (scroll to Trick #2: Use images to search for photographs, illustrations and other graphics). Another free reverse photo search engine is TinEye.

3. Know Smithy’s hobbies, nicknames, etc.?

Run them in a social media search engine and see what pops up. For example if Joe Smithy was an avid online poker player, run “Joe Smithy poker” and see if a new ID is popping up on sites where Joe’s used to. We wrote about these search engines here: Free Social Media Search Engines.

Related Articles

“When Your Lover Is a Liar” by Philip A. Becnel (Pursuit Magazine). Excellent article by a private investigator on relationship fraud and bogus IDs.

Made in China: Fake IDs (New York Times). According to this 2015 article, the number of U.S. counterfeit IDs from China is on the rise.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

(As the Writing PIs are currently working other cases, as well as completing writing projects, we are unable to accept any new questions at this time. Thank you for your understanding.)


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 Be Your Own Investigator, Creating False IDs, Handy Resources for Private Investigators, Nonfiction Books on Private Investigations, Reverse Number Searches | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Answering Writer’s Question: Finding Someone’s New, Bogus Online ID

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 April 7, 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 on #BookExcerpt The Work of a Legal Investigator

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

Posted by Writing PIs on March 27, 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 on Answering Writers’ Questions: Riding Along with a PI, Hiring PIs in Cases Involving Foul Play

How Being Keynote Speakers at a Coroners’ Conference Led to Writing a Book

Posted by Writing PIs on March 15, 2015

Copyright trolls make their money by suing Internet users

We were invited to speak to coroners about giving testimony

Twice we were invited to speak at our state coroners’ conference. The first time we spoke on a relatively serious topic – how to provide testimony at a trial. It seemed that during the previous year some coroners had contradicted their own reports while on the witness stand, as well as testified to using unaccepted procedures during autopsies. Because one of us (Shaun) had spent several decades as a trial attorney, and we co-owned a legal investigations agency, we were invited to give tips for how to testify during legal proceedings.

The Power Went Out During Our Talk

We were minutes into our presentation when the entire room went dark. No lights, no projection equipment, not even the microphones worked.

Fortunately, Shaun is a natural ham. He met the challenge with humor, telling the crowd that this was exactly what it’s like being grilled on the witness stand–anything can happen, and you better be able to roll with it.

Someone opened the blinds on some far windows, so there was enough light for Shaun detective with flashlightto find his way off the stage and into the crowd. He walked among the seated coroners, grilling them as if they were on the stand at a trial. Someone handed him a flashlight, and he would shine it on people as he pummeled them with questions. Afterward, the coroners gave him a standing ovation.

And we were honored to be invited back to be their keynote speakers the following year.

Writing The Ungrateful Dead

We’ve since recommended to PIs that they consider attending a coroners’ conference to learn everything from how to aid clients who might be seeking private autopsy options for a loved one, to networking with medical examiners’ and coroners’ offices.

One of the Writing PIs, Colleen, has also used our experiences at the coroners

The Ungrateful Dead is free Dec 2+3 - click on cover to go to Amazon page

Click on cover to go to Amazon page

conferences to write a mystery series featuring a 21st-century Nick and Nora private eye couple whose first case occurs at a coroners’ conference…where they also happen to be guest speakers. Life inspired this fiction story, which became The Ungrateful Dead.

Amazon Links

The Ungrateful Dead: http://www.amazon.com/The-Ungrateful-Dead-Humorous-Colorado-ebook/dp/B00ITWW9GO/

The Zen Manhttp://www.amazon.com/The-Humorous-Colorado-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B006NPP9XY

Click on banner to go to Amazon page

Click on banner to go to 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.

Posted in PI Topics, PIs and Lawyers, The Ungrateful Dead, The Zen Man by Colleen Collins | Comments Off on How Being Keynote Speakers at a Coroners’ Conference Led to Writing a Book

Answering Writer’s Questions about Surveillance Video

Posted by Writing PIs on November 22, 2014

surveillance

Updated Nov 22 2014

We originally wrote this post in 2010, then updated it in 2012. A note we want to add today is that by 2011-2012, we were exclusively using equipment that recorded digitally, from digital recorders to digital video cameras. A funny story: After we had “gone digital,”  a P.I. contacted us and asked what tape recording equipment we had used for an insurance company client several years prior because they had just hired him, and they insisted he only record with tape! He was frustrated, but had no choice if he wanted to conduct insurance investigations for them.

We figure that the insurance company has gone digital by now. If you’re writing a story set around 2012, that could be a funny predicament to put a PI character in (forced to use near-obsolete equipment).

And now, the post from 2012…

We’re answering a writer’s questions about surveillance video vs. tape, the inclusion of sound, and terms referring to viewing and monitoring video.

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Do PIs/police/etc still refer to surveillance video as surveillance TAPES (even though info could be on disks,sticks, etc)?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER: In our work, we say “surveillance video.” We thought about this, asking ourselves if we still hear other PIs loosely refer to surveillance video as tapes, but we can’t recall hearing that in a long time (several years at least).

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Do surveillance videos normally include sound?

surveillance female hanging out of car with camera

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER:  With our equipment, yes, and we expect that’s pretty standard for other PIs. We often don’t like it for our surveillance work, and invariably we’ll be using the camera and realize it’s recording our comments to each other, etc., and we need to shut down the sound. We have an entire surveillance video with the sound of our dog panting in the backseat (which strikes a soft spot with us as we’ve since lost that beloved dog). More than you wanted to know, but possibly fodder for stories.

WRITER’S QUESTION:  Are there special (industry specific) terms associated with reviewing and monitoring surveillance video?

GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’S ANSWER:  Not that we’re aware of. In speaking with our clients, be they attorneys or civilians, we’ll use pretty generic verbs (reviewing video, downloading video [from video hard-drive to main computer, for example], “photoshopping” video [in our office, photoshop’s become a verb much like Google–let’s Google that address, for example], editing video, burning video to a CD [we’ll burn video segment/s to a CD, which we’ll drop off at attorney’s/other’s offices], shooting video).

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

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

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

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.

Posted in Creating False IDs | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Answering Writer’s Question: How Easy Would It Be for a Person to Adopt a New Identity?

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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