Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A blog for PIs and writers/readers of the PI genre

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Posts Tagged ‘A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers by Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins’

From Pup to Courthouse Therapy Dog, Part 1

Posted by Writing PIs on November 24, 2018

Today our Rottie pup, Traveller, graduated from her second dog-training course. Afterward the trainer, who also trains therapy dogs, said, “Traveller’s too gregarious to be a service dog, but her friendliness and smarts are perfect for a therapy dog.”

We’ve always anticipated Traveller occasionally working with us on future investigations. After talking to our trainer, we’re now considering having Traveller trained as a therapy dog, too. Not right away as she’s still a pup. The Alliance of Therapy Dogs requires a dog to be at least one year old before starting training.

Service Dogs vs. Therapy Dogs

Service dogs and therapy dogs play two different roles, which are not interchangeable.

Service Dogs

These dogs work as a team with their physically, emotionally, or mentally challenged human partners. They help their person attain safety and independence, such as alerting a hearing-challenged person that a visitor is ringing the doorbell. Service dogs are not for petting as that could prevent the dog from performing its job correctly; in fact, most service dogs have a “no petting” policy established by their owners, with the dog often wearing a label requesting people to not pet the dog.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of people with disabilities so that they can be accompanied by their service dogs in public places such as stores, hotels, and restaurants.

Therapy Dogs

These dogs are even-tempered, gentle, and amiable. Whereas service dogs work as a one-on-one team with their person/handler, therapy dogs provide psychological or physiological therapy to a variety of individuals other than their handlers. It’s all right to pet on-duty therapy dogs, even encouraged by their handlers.

People petting airport therapy dog

Therapy dogs visit places such as schools, airports, rehabilitation centers, courtrooms, and more. Their roles vary depending on people’s needs. For example, therapy dogs might participate in a person’s physical rehabilitation, offer comfort at a hospital, or help encourage a child to read out loud.

Therapy dogs do not have the legal access rights that service dogs have.

Back to our pup Traveller. What kind of therapy dog might she be? Considering we’re legal investigators, makes sense for her to become a courthouse dog.

What Is A Courthouse Dog?

These are specially trained dogs that provide emotional support to people who have suffered physical, psychological or emotional trauma as a result of criminal conduct. For example, a courthouse dog might offer comfort to a sexually abused child while he/she undergoes forensic interviews and testifying in court. These dogs will also greet jurors; offer a soothing presence for vulnerable witnesses; provide a sense of normalcy during emotionally charged court hearings; even cuddle and play with troubled teenagers waiting for hearings.

A courtroom dog might wait outside courtroom doors, ready to comfort witnesses and others (image in public domain)

Courthouse dogs truly become a member of the court as they often visit with court support staff, defense counsel, law enforcement officers and judges during the course of a work day.

Criminal justice professions—such as a deputy prosecutor, law enforcement officer, victim advocate, or as in our case, legal investigator—handle courthouse dogs.

During the Holmes theatre-shooting case here in Colorado, we would see several courthouse dogs waiting outside the courtroom to comfort witnesses, family members, and others.

Next, let’s look at the story of a courthouse dog named Rosie.

Rosie, the First Courthouse Dog in New York State

In 2011, Rosie, an 11-year-old Golden Retriever, had her first day on the job as a courthouse dog. Before a court proceeding began, Rosie met Jessica, a 15-year-old girl who would be testifying in court about being raped.

Rosie and Jessica took the stand before the trial began so the jury wouldn’t see Rosie and possibly be influenced by her presence one way or the other. Throughout her testimony, Jessica petted Rosie — at one point, Jessica removed her shoe and buried her toes in Rosie’s fur. When asked by the prosecutor to point out the man who raped her, Jessica froze. Rosie, sensing Jessica’s distress, laid her head in the girl’s lap to comfort her. After a few moments, Jessica was able to point to the man.

Jessica and Rosie had been visiting each other for three months in preparation for Jessica’s trial date. During that time, the girl and dog had become acquainted by playing together, and Rosie had also learned how to tolerate the tight space of a witness box. Her handler would have Rosie sit in front of a barrier that the handler gradually moved closer to the dog until it mimicked being in a box.

The training paid off. With Rosie’s help, Jessica remained calm during her testimony, and the jury found the defendant guilty.

Therapy Dog Training and Certifying

In the months ahead, we’ll register Traveller for a training class that is a pre-requisite to her entering a therapy dog training course. If Traveller successfully graduates from that class, we’ll next register her in a therapy-dog training program for certification. Last, she’ll work with trainers who specialize in courtroom therapy dogs. We’re waiting for our current dog trainer and her team to finalize their dog-therapy training program here in Colorado (name and links forthcoming).

Below are several AKC-recognized therapy dog organizations that offer training, certification, support, and more:

Alliance of Therapy Dogs

Bright and Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Inc.

Love on a Leash

Therapy Dogs International

 

When Traveller enters the next stage of training, I’ll post “From Pup to Courthouse Therapy Dog, Part 2.”

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins. Unless an image is noted as being in the public domain, do not copy or distribute images as they are copyrighted. Sections “What Is a Courthouse Dog?” and “Rosie, the First Courthouse Dog in New York State” are excerpts from A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms co-written by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman.

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#BookGiveaway! Happy 7-Year Blogiversary to Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes!

Posted by Writing PIs on June 8, 2016

Your Writing PIs, Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins

We started Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes on June 9, 2009

To celebrate Guns, Gams & Gumshoes’ 7-year blogiversary…

We’re giving away 7 copies of A LAWYER’S PRIMER FOR WRITERS: FROM CRIMES TO COURTROOMS. Audiences: #Crimefiction & legal-thriller writers/readers, armchair legal-eagles, and those wanting a high-level tour of the U.S. legal system. Contest ends June 12, 2016 at midnight.

To enter the giveaway, click here

“A LAWYER’S PRIMER FOR WRITERS is an entertaining, knowledgable, must-have research tool for writers of all stripes!” ~Dennis Palumbo, author of the Daniel Rinaldi mystery series

“Whether you’re writing fiction, journalism, or advertising, there are times when you really need to know the in’s and out’s, not to mention the ‘lingo,’ of the legal world. That’s when I always crack open A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers. Written by a defense lawyer and a bestselling author, its clear, well-written explanations lend my own prose authority and authenticity.” ~Suzanne Doyle, President High-Low Communications

Sampling of Book Topics

  • A Lawyer's Primer for WritersA History of Trials
  • Players in the Courtroom
  • The Courtroom Setting
  • Jury Experts
  • Types of Courts
  • Types of Lawyers
  • Lawyers and Ethics
  • Lawyers and Technology
  • Trial Preparation
  • The Steps of Civil and Criminal Trials
  • Appeals
  • Articles on Crimes, DNA Testing, Forensics, Personal Injury Cases and More
    Recommended Legal Films

To enter the giveaway, click here

Have a great week, Writing PIs

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Real-Life Christmas Investigation Tales, Free Holiday Movies and Books, and a Kindle Fire Giveaway

Posted by Writing PIs on December 24, 2015

Christmas horizontal wreath

Merry Christmas from Guns, Gams & Gumshoes to Our Readers!

Today we’re offering a few real-life holiday investigation stories, as well as links to free Christmas movies and books, and a link to a Kindle Fire giveaway hosted by one of the Writing PIs. Enjoy!

Real-Life Christmas Investigation Tales

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins

(Image licensed by Colleen Collins)

Every year as PIs, we worked on Christmas Eve and Christmas. Even now with one of the Writing PIs working as a criminal lawyer, we both still work most holidays. For example, today is Christmas Eve and Shaun, the lawyer half of Writing PIs, is visiting a client in jail.

We’ve had some funny investigative experiences on Christmas, one being an irate wife whose lawyer contacted us and said she wanted her philandering husband served divorce papers on Xmas & no other day would do…so we did…and the ex-husband-to-be thanked us!

That story and others are in this article we previously wrote for Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes:

A Few Holiday Investigation Stories

Free Christmas Movies

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (image is in public domain)

Below are some vintage Christmas movies available via the public domain. Despite Santa Claus Conquers the Martians regularly appearing on lists of the worst films ever made, it has become a cult classic, including being featured on “Elvira’s Movie Macabre.”

Santa's Portrait by illustrator Thomas Nast, 1881 (image is in public domain)

Santa’s Portrait by illustrator Thomas Nast, 1881 (image is in public domain)

Scrooge, or Marley’s Ghost (1901) (via Public Domain Review)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) (via Public Domain Review)

The Night Before Christmas (1908) (Internet Archive)

Free Christmas Books

Two Writing PIs’s books, one fiction & one nonfiction, are free December 25 + 26:

Mistletoe and Murder in Las Vegas (by Colleen Collins) Regular price $2.99

Click on image to go to Amazon page.

Click on image to go to Amazon page

A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms (by Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins) Regular price $7.95

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Win a Free Kindle Fire Tablet

To celebrate the release of Mistletoe and Murder in Las Vegas, Guns, Gams & Gumshoes’s Colleen is giving away a Kindle Fire Tablet. For a chance to win, enter here (giveaway ends Dec 29): 

 

Wishing you and yours a happy, safe Christmas!

(Copyright Colleen Collins)

Shaun and Santa, Oxford Hotel, Denver, 2013 (Copyright Colleen Collins)

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.

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#BookExcerpt A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: MY COUSIN VINNY

Posted by Writing PIs on November 7, 2015

illustration black and white gavel public domain

(Image is in the public domain)

In our nonfiction book A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms, we dedicate a chapter to our ten favorite legal films, one being My Cousin Vinny (excerpt below).

In 1998, Joe Pesci, as Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, recorded the album Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You, which contains the song “Yo, Cousin Vinny.” The album cover shows Pesci in a red suit similar to the usher suit he wore in the film.

This was Fred Gwynne’s last film appearance. He died July 2, 1993.


My Cousin Vinny (1992)

Starring Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei and Fred Gwynne. A humorous courtroom drama where rough-around-the-edges New York lawyer Vincent LaGuardia “Vinny” Gambini (played by Pesci), fresh out of law school, is asked by his nephew and his nephew’s friend to save them from wrongful murder charges in a “redneck” Alabama court system.

Earlier in the book, we discussed opening statements. Here’s Vinny’s:

Everything that guy just said is bullshit. Thank you.

Fans of Vinny: From Lawyers to a Supreme Court Judge

Although Vinny isn’t always a shining example of courtroom etiquette, the movie has been praised by lawyers for adhering to the realities of courtroom procedure and trial strategy. And although Vinny’s style isn’t what one might call polished, he exudes raw trial-lawyer talent in how he conducts interviews and gathers facts.

When the American Bar Association (ABA) journal invited lawyers to vote for their favorite fictional lawyers, Vinny Gambini ranked number twelve, with lawyers admiring Vinny’s technically correct, and at times very clever, courtroom maneuvers.

At the Beasley School of Law, Temple University, law professor JoAnne Epps has told her law students that of all the legal films they could watch, the one they had to watch was My Cousin Vinny because it best portrays the realities of trial, from tight budgets to tetchy judges.

US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia even cited My Cousin Vinny as an example of the principle that a client can choose his own lawyer.

Courtroom No-Nos

The movie isn’t without a few legal bloopers, such as Vinny being the defense lawyer for both defendants, which is a conflict of interest.

Then, when a public defender is brought in, his nervousness causes him to stutter so much that he is nearly incoherent, making him ineffective. Doesn’t make sense that a public defenders’ office, which must be aware that one of its lawyers suffers horribly from stage fright, would assign him to a trial, thus jeopardizing the rights of the accused.

Courtroom Pluses

Nits aside, there is much to learn by watching this entertaining movie, including Vinny’s:

– Preparation of case theory

– Cross-examinations that reveal witnesses’ vulnerabilities

– “Legal thinking in the complexity of actual law practice” (quote by law professor Alberto Bernabe, The John Marshall Law School).

End of Excerpt

All rights reserved by Colleen Collins and Shaun Kaufman. Please do not copy/distribute any images noted as copyrighted or licensed. Images noted as in the public domain are copyright-free and yours to steal.


Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

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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

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.

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Answering a Writer’s Question: Can a Private Investigator Get Romantically Involved with a Client?

Posted by Writing PIs on September 6, 2014

“Let me explain something to you, Walsh. This business requires a certain amount of finesse.”~ Jake Gittes, Chinatown (1974)

Note to Readers: Several years ago, Colleen wrote a monthly column, “P.I. Confidential,” for Novelists, Inc., a community of writers who write novel-length commercial fiction. At the end of each article, she would answer questions writers had sent in — below is her response to a question about P.I.s having romantic dalliances with their clients.

fedora black and white

Writer’s Question: Are there any legal restrictions on a P.I. getting involved with a client, the subject of an investigation, a fellow P.I., or a law enforcement officer who’s involved in the same case? If not, are there generally accepted ethical guidelines or is it totally up to the P.I.’s own judgment? How about any lawsuits arising out of these kinds of relationships?

Answer: It’s certainly popular in film and books for a P.I. to get involved with a client. It’s not uncommon in real life, either. In our community, there’s a high-profile P.I. who became romantically involved with a woman who’d hired him to be her bodyguard–years later, they’re still happily together.

Although there aren’t always legal restrictions, there are often ethical ones to consider in the relationships mentioned. As to lawsuits, none appear in online sources; however, that doesn’t mean none exist. (Note: This was based on research in May 2011).

Involvement with a Client

Attorneys, physicians, accountants and psychologists cannot legally get involved with their clients because those professional-client relationships are interwoven with significant trust. However, in the vast majority of jurisdictions, there is no legal proscription forbidding a P.I. getting involved with a client.

That said, there are a pile of reasons why a P.I. should scrupulously avoid romantic entanglements with clients, a key one being the P.I.’s loss of professional objectivity. After all, clients hire P.I.s to make factual discoveries, not be advocates of their versions of events.

If a P.I. is hired through an attorney, the P.I. is an agent of that law firm, and the P.I.’s conduct is covered by the attorney’s code of professional responsibility. Therefore, if a P.I. were to get involved with a client, that attorney is on the hook for negligent supervision. For example, the attorney could be viewed as authorizing the P.I.’s sexual misconduct with a client, and the attorney could easily lose his/her license. Horrible scenario in real-life, juicy for fiction.

Involvement with the Subject of an Investigation

Let’s look at a few examples of what might be construed as a “romantic involvement”:

  • Taking the subject out to dinner
  • Weekend trips
  • Buying presents.

In the eyes of the law, the appearance of impropriety is as bad as the impropriety itself. In other words, if it looks like a fish, then it smells like a fish.

In a worse-case scenario, if police or opposing counsel learned that a P.I. was romantically involved with the subject of an investigation, it’s conceivable that the P.I. might be charged with tampering with a witness, improper influence or bribery. What if it was truly an innocent get-together, just an interview over dinner, nothing more? Sorry, a qualified P.I. should know appearances count. Again, this scenario offers ample fodder for fiction.

Let’s say the P.I. has become romantically linked to the subject of an investigation, and the romance goes south. A heartbroken witness might report a P.I.’s “misconduct” to authorities, maybe concoct a few heinous details (there’s no fury like a scorned lover). The P.I. could be publicly skewered by the local media and by opposing counsel in open court, and let us not forget the far-reaching impact of blogs, Twitter, Facebook LinkedIn…

Involvement with a Law Enforcement Officer

If a P.I. and police officer, who are intimately involved, are on different sides of a case, and they share–or even appear to share–case information, it can undermine a legal proceeding. For example, a convicted person is sitting, and stewing, in prison…then one day he learns that the D.A.’s detective in his case, and the P.I. the convicted man’s family hired, were lovers. Convict rings up his attorney, who files a motion for a new trial, claiming the P.I. shared investigative information and strategy with the other side of the case. Guess what? The conviction could easily be overturned.

Involvement with a Fellow P.I.

Yours truly eloped with her P.I.-business partner, so she well understands this scenario. First, let’s look at it this way: It’s not uncommon for professional peers–whether they’re P.I.s, cops, lawyers, or stockbrokers–to get involved. However, an ethical dilemma could arise if the P.I.s are working opposite sides of a case (see “Involvement with a Law Enforcement Officer,” above).

A by-product of a P.I.-P.I. relationship is the absolute unpredictability of each partner’s schedule. With one cell phone call, a candlelit dinner can turn into a moonlight surveillance. If they’re both working the same case, no ethical problems there…as long as both P.I.s keep their eyes on the target, not the moon…or each other.

Have a great weekend, Writing PIs

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s 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. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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The Drug Smuggler Who Wore Gucci

Posted by Writing PIs on August 28, 2014

Today Guns, Gams and Gumshoes’s Colleen is the guest at mystery writer Lois Winston’s blog. Below is an excerpt from Colleen’s article about a high-style drug smuggler with a link to the full article at the end.

The Felonious Fashionista

by Colleen Collins

fedora on woman black and white

My husband and I ran a private investigations agency for a decade, which has since morphed into his criminal law practice where I’m his part-time P.I. Or as I  call myself, his “live-in P.I.”

Occasionally, we’ve had clients give us thank-you gifts for handling their cases, from Starbucks cards to homemade tamales. But the most surprising gift offer was from a client who committed crimes in the high style she also liked to wear.  For this article, I’ll call her the felonious fashionista.

How We Met the Felonious Fashionista

A case came into our office a few years ago, where a man said his sister had been arrested on drug charges, and could our law firm handle her case? We get similar calls every month or so, usually for someone who’s been busted for recreational amounts of illicit drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, Oxycontin. When we asked the particulars of his sister’s charges, he said, “She had ten pounds of heroin packed in the air cleaner of the Mercedes she was driving, and fifty pounds of marijuana in the luggage carrier on top of the car.”

Our jaws dropped.

“Walk like you have three men walking behind you.”
– Oscar de la Renta

Because we were hired quickly after the fashionista had fired another lawyer, we didn’t meet her until her second appearance in court. Imagine our surprise when a Sofia Vergara clone sashayed into the courthouse as if she were prowling a catwalk. She wore insanely high heels, a silk blouse and a front-split skirt that flashed glimpses of her tan, toned thighs. Later we learned she had been a fashion model in a European country.

Other lawyers in the hallway looked like a tableau, frozen as they stared in awe at this beautiful woman, their looks turning to surprise and curiosity as she greeted us warmly. As the three of us walked into the courtroom, she glanced at my husband’s green nylon briefcase decorated with several ink smudges, then at my purse, which is more like an oversized messenger bag as I cram everything into it, from books to my computer.

After the hearing, she took us aside and said she wanted to gift us both with designer luggage briefcases as ours were in serious need of an “upgrade.” Did we like Saint Laurent? Gucci?

“We like REI,” my husband quipped.

That evening, I found him looking up Gucci briefcases on the internet.

Let’s pause a moment and discuss what this drug smuggler gained from her fashionista ways.

To read the full article click here.

Other Recent Articles

Prejudices About Trial Lawyers (Shaun Kaufman Law)

A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: Types of Lawyers – Criminal Law (Colleen Collins Books)

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.

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Historical Research: Finding People From Over 40 Years Ago

Posted by Writing PIs on July 30, 2014

Private Investigator reviewing evidence

Going Back to the Early 1970s

We’ve had a few cases where clients asked us to identify people who were either employed at, or did contract work for, two different buildings (one a former business) that existed over 40 years ago. In both cases, our clients didn’t know the people’s full names, and the business had been closed for several decades.

Case #1: Finding a Car Mechanic

In one, a lawyer hired us to find a car mechanic who had worked in Denver some time in the early 1970s. We had his last name (which fortunately was unique — better than trying to find someone with the last name of Smith or Jones!), his wife’s first name, and the name of a dealership (which had closed over twenty years ago) where he had once worked. Researching proprietary databases wasn’t useful because their information didn’t go back that far. Surprisingly, old local telephone books from that era didn’t contain any people with that last name.

One track of investigative research that was fruitful, however, was researching business owners of the former car dealership through our state’s Secretary of State database, then researching contact information for these people and their family members. It took a lot of calls and hitting dead ends, but eventually we found a contact who remembered this car mechanic. Unfortunately, he had died years ago, but we were able to conduct an interview with one of his-coworkers from that former dealership, who gave us information useful for the lawyer’s case.

Case #2: Finding a Building Contractor

In a current case, we needed to determine the identities of building contractors who built a school building in 1970, and later remodeled a school gymnasium in 1972. Our client, a law firm back east, only knew the names of the buildings. Fortunately, in our state, school districts are mandated by law to keep business records, contracts and architectural plans on file in case the school requires any remodeling.

To our amazement, we learned that this school district had gone above and beyond the mandate by also keeping every scrap of paper associated to a contract, even scribbled notes. Such a find is a PI’s dream come true. We visited the off-site storage facility where boxes of these notes had been stored, and sifted through box after box, looking for any mention of a contractor’s name…eventually, we found the names of contractors and subcontractors for these buildings, nearly 40 years later!

This last case shows how, even in this digital age, old-fashioned footwork can solve a case. If we had relied solely on the documents faxed to us by the school district, we never would have learned the identities of the contractors.

Have a great week, Writing PIs

 

Click cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click cover to go to book’s 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. Any violations of this reservation will result in legal action.

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Finding Missing Persons: Old-Fashioned But Still Valid Gumshoe Techniques

Posted by Writing PIs on June 23, 2014

A lot of people think today’s PIs just sit at computers and look up information.  That’s partly true — today’s PIs do a fair amount of research online, but that doesn’t mean the old, tried-and-true ways of investigating on foot aren’t still sometimes the best way to find information.

Hitting the Street, Knocking on Doors

Hard to believe there was a time without computers and databases, but once upon a time a sleuth looking for a missing person had to hit the streets, knock on doors, conduct surveillances, and do research on-site at court houses and other places.  Some of these seemingly old-fashioned means are still valid, and sometimes even more useful, than digging electronically.

A Little Girl Was Missing

Seven or so years ago, we were driving in rush-hour traffic, tired after a day researching records in several courthouses, happy to be going home and calling it a day…then we got a call on our cell phone: A five-year-old girl had gone missing.

It was a case we’d already been working on. The little girl’s biological father was struggling with mental/drug issues, and the little girl’s grandparents, who had custody and were concerned for her well-being, had hired us to investigate his lifestyle. Just that morning, before we’d left for our courthouse work, we’d researched where the father might possibly have moved to (he’d withheld his new residence address from the grandparents) and we’d located a plausible street address, although we hadn’t double-checked it yet.

After getting the call, we quickly drove to this new possible address. It was an old Victorian home remodeled into four apartments, and we ran to the apartment we believed he lived in, but no one was home. Peering through the windows, we saw the place was empty, with trash and moving boxes piled inside. We began knocking on neighbors’ doors. No one answered. Being a little after five p.m., we guessed that the other residents hadn’t returned home yet from work.

Relying on Random Wi-Fi Signals

Those were the days before we had smartphones. Often, if we needed quick Internet access while in the field, we’d try to pick up a Wi-Fi signal via one of our laptops. Sometimes we’d have to drive slowly down a street to find one of these signals!

This day, we lucked out and picked up a signal right away. After successfully accessing the Internet, we looked up the county assessor’s office and researched the owner of the Victorian apartment building. After another quick search to locate his phone number, we called the landlord, gave him the father’s name, and asked if he had recently lived in the apartment that was now empty and filled with trash and packing boxes. The owner denied knowing the father, and claimed there had been another tenant who had lived in that unit and she had recently moved, but he didn’t have a forwarding address. Later we learned the owner had lied to us.

But at the time, we were stymied. From our research of the father several days before, this address had definitely popped up in our searches. Maybe he was living in one of the other units with a roommate?

We Decided to Do A Trash Hit

We spied a dumpster behind the apartment building and decided to check its contents, see if there were any clues to the little girl or her father. This is what’s called a “trash hit” — you literally go through the trash. We had definite procedures for conducting trash hits in our investigations, but this time we were on a time clock and did it dirty and fast: We jumped into the dumpster.

We found a box addressed to the father at this address! So he did live here — or had lived here. We now believed, despite what the landlord had said, that the father was the tenant who’d suddenly moved in the last day or so. Digging through the trash, we found a few children’s items, including some yogurt cartons. We called the grandparents and described the items — when we described the yogurt container, the grandmother started crying.  She explained that was her granddaughter’s favorite kind of yogurt.

A Long Evening of Research

We peeled the return address label off the box addressed to the father, and drove back to our home office, where we started a long evening of research, which included many calls to local law enforcement, to locate the little girl. To bring this story quickly to a happy ending, by the time the sun came up, we had located the little girl and her father — they were 2,000 miles away at a relative’s.

You can see how much physical work was involved in making this discovery. Visiting a location, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and eventually crawling into a dumpster. A few weeks later, the grandparents sent us a thank you card with a photo of their granddaughter. It’s one of our treasured mementoes.

Other Tasks a PI Might Conduct to Locate a Missing Person

Additional techniques include:

  • Researching court records (such as evictions and traffic violations that might contain information that indicates where the person might be living, their type of car, their workplace, or associates who can be interviewed about the person’s current location.
  • Pulling driver’s records at the DMV (to pinpoint everything from a person’s physical description to their signature to recent addresses).
  • Interviewing people who may have known the subject (for example, past and current neighbors as well as relatives, past and current landlords, co-workers and known associates).
  • Surveilling places the person was known to frequent (friends’ or relatives’ homes, bars, workout clubs, etc.)

Our current nonfiction book A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms is now available on Amazon. Audiences: Writers crafting legal thrillers, fans of legal movies and TV shows, researchers & armchair legal eagles

Click on cover to go to book's Amazon page

Click on cover to go to book’s Amazon page

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