Cops are not the only ones on the job when it comes to investigating and gathering evidence. A Private Investigator (P.I.) is a citizen who another citizen may employ for any legal reason. There are particular situations where a lawyer, too, may hire a P.I. for help in building a case. Read on to learn more about
What a P.I. Does and Their Qualifications for the Job;
Lawyers and P.I.s and Where They May Interact; and
Legal Issues That May Arise from a P.I.’s Involvement.
What Are Private Investigators and What Do They Do?
Contrary to popular belief, P.I.s are not vigilantes out on a mission for justice—nor are they everyday untrained people looking to start a new freelance business.
You need a registration to be a private detective, and while there are not many experience requirements for one, there are a few basic requirements.
P.I.s must be at least 25 years old, pass an FBI background check, and have an employment offer from or employment with a licensed P.I. agency. There are recommended training of relevant studies in criminal justice or legal studies at either an Associate or Bachelors degree level—however, it is not required.
Opening a private detective agency requires licensing, and a license requires experience. What type of experience?
Five or more years’ experience…
As a certified private detective AND
As a full-time Police Officer (along with both completion of an approved police officer training course and three years in investigation as a detective).
So, yes: private investigators are quite experienced. Chances are, your lawyer wouldn’t chance a case on one that wasn’t.
P.I.s do a few different things once certified. For one, anyone can hire a P.I. for whatever matters they list. A business may employ one to conduct background checks or corporate security. An individual might hire a P.I. to help track down a missing person. Attorneys, of course, may enlist the help of a P.I. to gather evidence.
There are many ways a P.I. may go about accomplishing any task. They may conduct interviews, searches of records or areas, covert surveillance of a person, employment verification inquiries, computer forensics efforts when looking into identity crimes, or general collections of evidence leading up to a trial or for their client’s own use.
Usual P.I. work is fairly multifaceted, allowing them to switch between an office for research and “the field” (or anywhere that is not their workspace) for any surveillance, interviewing, or evidence gathering.
The role of P.I.s varies situation-to-situation, but in-general function as civilian investigators independent of, but not necessarily removed from, law enforcement.
Situations Where Your Lawyer May Call A Private Investigator
Lawyers usually don’t just hire any average P.I.; they hire ones with legal experience. What does legal experience entail? A legal investigator is a P.I. who specializes in conducting investigations that may eventually serve a case rather than assist in personal and business matters.
The above examples of what a P.I. may do for work are not far from why a lawyer may need them.
A major component of any trial is gathering evidence and finding witnesses; legal P.I.s can do just that. Your lawyer may be too busy building the case to go out and directly find witnesses themselves, so they’ll hire a P.I. to fill the gaps. They can set up interviews, conduct research on a person’s relationship to the case (or any relevant experts who may lend their professional opinion), and go beyond initial police reports to help your lawyer build the fullest case possible.
In that, if a witness changes their story in court from what they initially told the P.I., the investigator may take the stand to testify as to what was said during the interview.
In criminal defense, a lawyer may even call on the perspective of a P.I. to look over their case. If there are gaps, they may use the resources at their disposal to provide more foundation and basis for any claims made. This also may include looking at cross-examination and researching a witness’s past to potentially discredit them at trial.
Your lawyer will most likely keep you in the loop with their decisions, especially when it comes to hiring a P.I. Of course, it is important to also know about any grey areas that come with a P.I.’s involvement in your case and possible practices that may be illegal.
Potential Legal Issues with Private Investigators
We have stressed throughout this blog that your lawyer should, in almost every situation, hire a P.I. who knows what lines not to cross and complete their work efficiently and effectively.
However, keep in mind a few possible pitfalls of private investigation that might cause more legal snares than loopholes.
For one, surveillance is accepted, but practices like wiretapping or trespassing are highly illegal. Maryland has strict consent laws that prohibit recording a conversation without another party’s permission. Trespassing, on the other hand, is a no-brainer when it comes it illegality; a P.I., in any case, cannot enter the home of a person without their permission.
A P.I. also cannot impersonate a law enforcement officer to gain entry to a house or an interview from a potential witness. This even includes using any former police identification or P.I. badges that resemble a police badge. Misleading a witness will create more problems in the future rather than solve them.
There are certain pieces of personal information a P.I. cannot access. For example, any type of financial information that goes past publicly accessible court information is off-limits without a subpoena. Any expunged criminal records should not be unearthed or unsealed, or used against a person in a court of law, either.
Try and be as involved as possible in your legal situation and the case your attorney sets to build. Talk to private investigators involved in the process and understand their role. They’re there to help you round out the case to its fullest potential, so you have the best chance at the most ideal legal outcome possible.