Archive for the ‘PI Business’ Category
Next week the U. S. District Court of California will issue the sentence for Lori Drew, the MySpace “cyberbully” who was convicted of violating the MySpace terms of service when she created a false profile. [See my article, Think Twice Before Going Undercover.] In that piece I talk about some of the considerations for the investigator who is tempted to fabricate an identity on a social networking site in order to gain access to a user’s otherwise private profile.
Here’s a legal issue to mull over. Perhaps this applies in other states, but in California, in criminal cases, the criminal defense investigator or prosecution investigator can’t interview a potential witness without first “clearly identifying himself or herself.” This is found in California Penal Code 1054.8:
1054.8. (a) No prosecuting attorney, attorney for the defendant, or investigator for either the prosecution or the defendant shall interview, question, or speak to a victim or witness whose name has been disclosed by the opposing party pursuant to Section 1054.1 or 1054.3 without first clearly identifying himself or herself, identifying the full name of the agency by whom he or she is employed, and identifying whether he or she represents, or has been retained by, the prosecution or the defendant. If the interview takes place in person, the party shall also show the victim or witness a business card, official badge, or other form of official identification before commencing the interview or questioning.
(b) Upon a showing that a person has failed to comply with this section, a court may issue any order authorized by Section 1054.5.
A violation could lead to the exclusion of the evidence obtained from that interview. Isn’t the investigator attempting to “interview, question, or speak” to a witness when the investigator accesses the witness’s non-public social network profile? The private profile requires the participants be accepted as “friends” and is a mouthpiece for the account holder to speak to her selected audience. The investigator who disguises his identity to pry open that witness’s cyber door could risk the exclusion of any evidence gathered through that pretext, as well as picking up a misdemeanor.
Anthony Pellicano may have supplanted Sam Spade as the most widely recognized private investigator, albeit Sam was fictional, although Pellicano seems so. The National Law Journal hyperbolic headline, Christensen Case a ‘Wake-Up’ Call for Lawyers on Use of Private Eyes, suggests that the Pellicano/Christensen matter is stirring an otherwise somnolent crowd, causing attorneys to be more attentive to their relationship with investigators (perhaps more so due to the criminal charge against one of their own). But, really people, other private investigators are not conducting illegal wiretaps or audio recordings, making threats to opposing parties in litigation or conspiring with their attorneys to do any of the above. This is truly an anomaly.
Still, attorneys and investigators in many cases don’t clarify the investigative approaches that may be employed. This could be essential as a matter of law, regulation, ethics or just good sense for the case at hand. For example, an attorney may ask her investigator to locate assets on an opposing party. Is the other party a judgment debtor or is the request a pre-litigation check? Does it matter?
One attorney in the story says, referring to the Pellicano/Christensen (and Hewlett Packard case) prosecution, that it has “woken up some lawyers as to what their liability, criminal or civil, may be with regard to private investigators they’ve hired.” And another: “you can’t just let your investigator go out there and investigate and take the fruits of what he provides and use it”. Those are sound conclusions.
Assume we all agree that wiretapping and conspiring to commit felonies is a very bad notion. What does Christensen Case a ‘Wake-Up’ Call suggest attorneys and their investigators should talk about to be sure that the investigator doesn’t just “go out there “? Well…nothing! There were no specifics included in the story. Here are a few of my own:
* What can, should or shouldn’t be stated to witnesses about the case?
* Are there involved parties who shouldn’t be contacted?
* Which information gathering methods mustn’t be used? Name them.
* Are there categories of records that the investigator should not obtain?
Have you talked with your attorney or investigator on ethical investigative methods?
Here we go again, another incident involving a private investigator that tarnishes the reputation of an entire profession all in the name of making a quick buck.
A local Ohio newspaper is now reporting that a worker at the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation has allegedly admitted to selling the Social Security numbers and other non-public personal information of injured workers’ to a private investigator.
The private investigator has not been identified, but the case has been referred to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office for possible criminal prosecution.
While it doesn’t appear that the information provided was being used for identity theft, the bureau is still notifying 49 injured workers whose personal information appears to have been was compromised.
These incidents only provide legislators with more ammunition to exclude licensed private investigators from legitimate access to valuable personal information.
One can only hope that those PIs who are willing to break the law, or forget about professional ethics, are caught and punished.
What do you think about this incident?
This week in public records: California – Washington – Missouri – Indiana – Wisconsin – Pennsylvania
A few months ago I wrote about the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control maintains License Query System. An added feature to the ABC site is daily, weekly and annual reports of new licenses, license status changes and actions taken against licenses including, revocations, suspensions, fines, and issuance or denial of licenses. The database of reports cannot be searched at the site. Search the archived reports from September 16, 2006 to the present by using this advanced search at Google. Replace “Safeway” with your company name, address or other key words.
Reporters and anyone compiling statistical data will be able to make use of the reports menu at the ABC site. Query the reports by location and license type to get a detail of all that meet that criteria. For example, find all the caterer licensees in Azusa.
Washington State law now bans employer access to the credit reports of employees or potential employees unless such information is substantially related to the individual’s current or potential job responsibilities. An exception is made if the employer has a “reasonable cause to believe” that the employee “has engaged in specific activity that constitutes a violation of law.”
Missouri private investigators are poised to receive the stamp of legitimacy with the establishment of the Board of Private Investigator Examiners, which will license and regulate private investigators. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature, which is expected this summer. The Missouri Association of Private Investigators has worked diligently to secure state level licensing and soon they’ll be able to join the majority of states that license PIs.
New regulations for Indiana private investigators will go into effect July 1, including the replacement of the term “private detective” with “private investigator”.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court will decide whether property assessment databases created on behalf of municipalities by private companies are a public records.
Legislation introduced in Pennsylvania would make it a crime to obtain, sell or receive phone records of state residents without their authorization.
Its not everyday that the New York Times features a very nice positive article on a couple of New York City private investigators.
There are renting laws in New York City that affect half of the approximate two million rental apartments. Those tenants who are fortunate enough to live in these rent controlled apartments are required to live in their apartment at for least six months per year. They also can’t sublet it without the owner’s permission or charge more than the regulated rent. The landlord can take back the apartment if the primary tenant violates these rules, moves out, or dies unless a family member has already been living in the apartment for at least two years.
Bill Golodner and his partner, Bruce Frankel, both former New York City police detectives, say their firm has handled close to 500 of these real estate type cases in the past year.
News 14 Carolina recently aired a story about Karin Goin who uses regular dogs that she trains rigorously to find missing pets.
“(The dogs) are at least 85 percent of the investigation,” she said. “We are on the dumb end of the leash. We basically follow behind.”
You can see the newsclip by clicking here.