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5 Do’s and Don’ts for Private Investigators

April 9, 2015

Thanks to stereotypes perpetuated in the media, the truth about what private investigators actually do is often misunderstood. Private investigators don’t have a free pass to record whoever they want, go wherever they want, or lookup whatever they want. As Private Investigators (also called Private Detectives), we have to make sure everything we do is legal and above reproach. As we work cases, we always need to make sure that our investigations have the proper paperwork such as permits, licenses, warrants, and subpoenas. Without these, the evidence and information obtained could be considered unusable or worse, could lead to criminal charges for violation of law. Here are five big do’s and don’ts a private investigator has to follow:

1. Recording

Private Investigators are not allowed to record a phone conversation without consent from at least one party, and in some states both parties must consent. In California we must have both parties consent to record a phone call. While “tapping” a phone is possible, it’s also illegal without a warrant & in most cases these types of warrants are only issued to law enforcement.

2. Private Information

Contrary to popular belief, Private Investigators do not have special access to government documents, personal phone records and cannot “hack” someone’s personal computer. In a nut shell, every citizen has the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy and unless we have a court order saying otherwise- invasion of that privacy is prohibited.

3. Trespassing and Disguises

Private Investigators are not allowed to trespass on other people’s property to retrieve information & are not exempt from trespassing laws unless serving legal documents. We need permission from the owners in order to search a property. While certain disguises are acceptable and can be utilized effectively, Private Investigators are not allowed to pose as law enforcement officers.

4. Arrests

Private Investigators are not given any special powers of arrest beyond what a normal citizen is allowed. We regularly use surveillance to uncover information about criminal activity but as directed by our clients, usually we would not get involved and turn the information over to law enforcement, working with the best criminal lawyer in the area, as a rule.

In California, a PI or any citizen, can arrest an individual who has committed a public offense in his/her presence or if a felony act has been committed not in his/her presence and the arresting person has reasonable cause for believing that the person arrested committed the felony (PC837). Private Investigators are allowed to carry weapons either openly or concealed as long as they have received licenses to carry from the proper government agency.

5. Social Security Numbers and License Plates

Private Investigators can and do access social security & license plate numbers; however these private pieces of information are strictly regulated and cannot be accessed without a permissible purpose. A permissible purpose would include something like needing to locate someone to serve them or confirm that a particular vehicle is registered to a defendant, but NOT to try and locate a celebrity or spy on a neighbor because you don’t like the color of their hair.

Do You Need An Investigator?

While there are many restrictions on what PI’s can do, one of the things that makes the investigators at Bosco Legal indispensable is that we know how to work within the law to get the information our clients need. In the almost 30 years that we’ve been in business, we’ve learned the ins and outs of how to get what we need while keeping ourselves and our clients out of trouble. If you have questions you need answered, contact us by clicking here for a free consultation.