Article is now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That?
Posted by Writing PIs on May 3, 2011
Article is now available in How Do Private Eyes Do That?
Posted in Writing About PIs, Writing Mysteries | Tagged: articles, blog, detective fiction, infidelity investigations, Lew Archer, mystery writers, PI genre, PIs at crime scenes, private detective, private investigator, Ross Macdonald, signs of infidelity, writing PIs | Comments Off on Infidelity Investigations: Tips for Writers Writing Sleuths
Posted by Writing PIs on April 9, 2011
Writer’s Question: Is there a time frame that an area remains a crime scene? I’m picturing the yellow caution tape in a public place and wondering how long that remains up. What kind of time frame might apply to a crime scene in a residence (for example, if someone is found dead in a family room, how long do the residents of the house need to stay out of the room?) I’m thinking that from the time the police leave to when a PI shows up, a lot could happen in that room if a family member so desires.
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: A police crime scene excludes all but those who are trained to respect procedures for preservation and collection of evidence. Generally speaking, after a period of approximately 1-24 hours, the area is returned to normal use.
Regarding a crime scene in a residence, specifically (per your question) a dead body found therein: Be mindful that police will remove those parts of the family room that they consider important evidence (for example, blood-stained carpeting and drywall spattered with blood). Also, police will photograph/videotape the family room in the exact state in which they found it. In other words, by the time the family returns and changes anything, the PI will have copies of police photographs as well as access to physical evidence that’s within police custody. There are certainly instances where PIs would still seek access to the home (for example, to photograph the layout, measurements, etc.) but that is accomplished through court order or consent of the victim’s family.
Posted in Q&As | Tagged: articles, blog, Crime Scenes, detective fiction, fiction writing, mystery writers, PI genre, PIs at crime scenes, private detective, private investigator, writing PIs | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Writing PIs on March 20, 2011
There’s a lot of online training courses on how to be a private investigator, but one of the best (if not the best) classroom courses is The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies in Denver, Colorado.
We know because we took this course years ago when we first opened our private investigations business. Since then, we’ve taken many other courses, and taught a fair share ourselves, but if you’re starting out in the business, want to brush up your PI skills, or are a writer wanting to learn about the world of private investigations, take this class.
Here’s a sampling of why it’s an excellent course of study:
But don’t take it solely from us–read about the course, contact them, ask questions:
Click this link to read more: The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies
Or send an email to Rick Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh, we’re not affiliated with this class, just passing on the information to those who want to learn from one of the best.
Have a great weekend, Writing PIs
Posted in Training to be a PI | Tagged: detective fiction, how to be a private investigator, mystery writers, private investigator, private investigator training, Rick Johnson, surveillance, The Private Investigators Academy of the Rockies, writing PIs | 1 Comment »
Posted by Writing PIs on March 15, 2011
Posted in Expectation of Privacy | Tagged: articles, blog, Colleen Collins, detective fiction, expectation of privacy, fiction writing, How Do Private Eyes Do That?, PI genre, private investigator, writing PIs | 1 Comment »
Posted by Writing PIs on November 8, 2010
Today we’re posting a question, and our answer, from a writer about a sleuth character conducting undercover work in a disguise.
Writer’s Question: Is it okay for a PI to do surveillance undercover in a disguise to gain access to the private area? I mean, if the client welcomes him into the home as a cleaning person, it wouldn’t be trespassing and the PI could snoop without ‘disturbing’ anything. Or would that be frowned upon because it’s considered getting evidence under false pretenses?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: We love the cleaning person scenario! But let’s look at it this way–what could be objectionable about this pretense? Any pretense that is too extreme and/or involves harm to the person or property of the surveillance subject is more likely to be found illegal. Lately, a lot of lawyers have become nervous about pretexts and pretenses because federal investigators frown on wide-scale use of made-up reasons and scenarios to obtain private information. Using a cleaning person as a pretense to gain admission to a home by consent effectively cancels that consent, turning the entry into a trespass.
In a story, it could be very interesting if the fictional PI risks conducting this trespass deception, then sees something in the house that can later be recovered by lawful means. At this point, if the PI is selectively silent about the trespass, the PI could use the lawfully obtained information in court without revealing the earlier illegal prextextual entry.
Have a great week, Writing PIs
Posted by Writing PIs on October 25, 2010
Writer’s Question: How would a PI go about having a private autopsy done?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: If the body is with the state medical examiner, that agency is subject to the jurisdiction of the local court. The family of the decedent can seek a court order to have a private forensic doctor either attend the state-conducted autopsy or to conduct a private, second autopsy following the state’s.
How does a PI facilitate this? By obtaining the names, contact info, and pricing of private forensic doctors for the family. The PI might also (if a forensic doctor isn’t already known to the PI) conduct a background check on the doctor for the the family to ensure there are no skeletons in the doctor’s closet, no pun intended. The PI will make the arrangements for the doctor to appear at the autopsy, and often the PI will also attend and photograph the autopsy. In short, the PI will take steps to guarantee that the chain of custody of evidence and the documentation will be done with as much care and attention to courtroom details as the state would require of its own autopsy procedures.
State-conducted autopsies are typically done in coroners’ offices. Private autopsies are typically done in hospitals. The PI facilitating a private autopsy might also help reserve the room at the hospital.
Shaun, one of the “Writing PIs” of this blog, attended his first autopsy (which he watched as a public defender 30 years ago), which was a state-conducted autopsy performed at a mortuary. The reason it was done at a mortuary was that the county didn’t have a coroner’s office at that time. This same situation (no coroner’s office) may still occur in more rural areas in the U.S.
To supplement our above answer, we asked a fellow PI (Dean Beers, CLI, http://www.privateinvestigations.org/) to elaborate on private autopsies (below). Dean has an extensive background in medicolegal death investigations.
There are two autopsies – medical (or hospital) and forensic.
The former is often by a hospital pathologist and paid for by the hospital with the families permission and at their discretion. This is only to determine/verify any disease process. These are also referred to as medical curiosity. This is not research, such as with donated to science, but similar and essentially the same otherwise.
The latter is a medicolegal autopsy that should only be performed by a board certified forensic pathologist or FP (the other two being clinical and anatomical, with surgical being a subset, pathologists). FPs are trained in both the legal issues and injury causations. FPs primarily work for coroner and ME systems, sometimes jointly for a hospital (such as my jurisdiction).
A family may request a medical autopsy – but the decision is up to the hospital as they are paying the tab and it must fit within their criteria. If the death is suspicious (and particularly involving an exhumation) then an FP should be consulted. FPs are often ‘triple board certified’ and therefore have the most training and experience to determine if the death is natural causes, foul play or some other unusual circumstance. The FP is also trained in the legal matters, including testifying as an expert.
There is no speed enhancement to a private autopsy – it may be slower in some cases (but not often, depending on the case load). If the case is a coroner’s case, the body belongs to the coroner. By statute the coroner authorizes (or declines) the autopsy. If they authorize the autopsy the tab is to the state or county. If it is declined (medical records review confirms a natural death) then the family can request a private autopsy after the body is released and they pay the tab. They may also have a second autopsy, this may be by exhumation or an FP’s review of the autopsy report, investigative report, toxicology and microscopy (there is a lot involved in death investigations and autopsies) because these samples are preserved. The private autopsy can be $2000-$5000, depends – and may involve only an FP or an FP and investigator for a full review/investigation. Autopsies are not paid for by medical/health insurance.
Posted in Writing About PIs | Tagged: death investigations, detective fiction, medicolegal death investigations, PI ordering a private autopsy, private autopsy, private detective, private investigator | Comments Off on Answering Writer’s Question: How Would a PI Request a Private Autopsy?
Posted by Writing PIs on October 4, 2010
Last night’s episode of Bored to Death (HBO, Sundays, 10 p.m. EDT) had us laughing so hard, we were crying. Jonathan, the wannabe private eye who’s launched his illegal investigative career (he’s not licensed) by advertising in Craiglist ads, ends up in his client’s bedroom closet, on surveillance to catch a cheating spouse. To Jonathan’s surprise, he catches…no, we won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.
Let’s chat about that bedroom-sleuthing scene.
Was it legal for Jonathan the PI to hide in the bedroom closet? Yes. The unsuspecting wife had no expectation of privacy, unfortunately, because her husband had given Jonathan permission to hide in the bedroom.
Was it smart for Jonathan to respond to his client’s text messages while on surveillance? No. Sorry, Jonathan, but it’s a good rule of thumb to not be real-time interactive with clients while on surveillance. You need to be watching the locale/person, not distracted by text messages, phone calls, reading a book…you get the picture. It can take only a few seconds to miss what you’re hired to be surveilling.
Was it smart for Jonathan to text back to his client that nothing was happening? The issue of texting aside, YES! Especially when you’re working a surveillance case where emotions run high–which they usually do in a suspected cheating spouse case. The last thing a PI needs is an upset, hysterical client barging onto the scene. Remember the woman in Texas who ran over her cheating husband THREE TIMES in a parking lot? Guess how she knew her husband was there–the PI she’d hired called her from the hotel and told her. Which is why we make it a rule that we do not converse or otherwise communicate with clients during the course of a surveillance. Instead, they receive surveillance reports afterward.
No PI in New York would get by working as an unlicensed PI this long, so we’re hoping Jonathan gets caught soon, which could be a very entertaining premise. But Bored to Death isn’t about gritty realism and rules. It’s a funky, funny, sometimes surreal show that is getting better and better. We can’t wait for next Sunday’s episode.
Posted by Writing PIs on September 29, 2010
Today’s world is a small one–it’s not as easy to disappear, much less stay that way. Today we post our answer to a writer’s question on this topic.
Writer’s Question: Let’s say a person plans his or her disappearance and pulls if off successfully. How can he can stay hidden? What are some of the ways people have tried, but haven’t worked?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: As to successful ways a person can stay hidden, they cannot use banking/financial institutions they previously used. Their funds need to be liquid, and preferably kept in an account offshore. They must ignore creating government records (such as auto registrations, property ownership records, government licenses, bidding/accepting government contracts, and so forth). A crucial element of staying hidden is for the person who is hiding to change hobbies and similar life patterns. Recently, a criminal fled our area, established residence in a foreign country, kept his funds liquid, refrained from creating any traceable records (such as a driver’s license), used a forged passport, changed his style of dress and hair, even married a local woman in the foreign country (and essentially “buried” himself underneath her identifiers–meaning, everything was in her name). But he messed up in one big way: he had a notorious hobby and vocation, which he prominently displayed and advertised in the host country. A person saw this individual on “America’s Most Wanted” and recognized him from this hobby (the person was either a tourist or local and had seen the advertisements this individual had placed in the area). This man had done just about everything right to hide his identity and ability to be found, but he failed to abandon his established hobby.
Have a great week, Writing PIs
Posted in Writing About PIs | Tagged: best nonfiction books on private investigations, best-selling nonfiction books, detective fiction, top-ranked nonfiction books on Kindle | Comments Off on Answering Writer’s Question: How Do People Who Want to Disappear Stay Hidden?
Posted by Writing PIs on September 27, 2010
This is a great question, one we’ve learned sometimes stymies writers. Although lawyers aren’t known to have “bad intentions” in such real-life scenarios, just think of the complications and fun twists if one did in a fiction story.
Writer’s Question: I’ve read that PIs shouldn’t forward a client’s personal information to a civilian-client (versus an attorney-client). Does this mean that giving the info to an attorney is perfectly all right? Provided you’re working for one, of course. What if you suspect the attorney has personal involvement and, maybe, bad intentions?
Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s Answer: The fact that an attorney is licensed means that he/she answers to a higher authority (the attorney regulatory agency for that state). In addition to their responsibilities as citizens, attorneys have additional ethical responsibilities imposed on them by the agency. The regulatory rules governing attorneys generally require higher standards of conduct than those required by the laws on citizens in our society. For example, there are many regulatory rules that require lawyers to report misconduct of their fellow attorneys and sometimes even clients, whereas there are no such rules imposed on citizens. Therefore, an ill-intentioned lawyer is more likely to be discovered and punished than non-lawyers. Not to say there aren’t crooked or ill-intentioned lawyers who will break the law, but they’re risking their licenses and livelihood to do so, which makes chances slim that they’d act out “bad intentions.”
Have a great week, Writing PIs