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The following excerpt is from the chapter on private investigators, many of whom work with attorneys, from the nonfiction book A Lawyer’s Primer for Writers: From Crimes to Courtrooms. Below are three writers’ questions & our answers about PIs, lawyers and the police.

Are PIs and Cops Compatible?

We see PI-cop conflicts all the time in books, TV shows and movies. In reality, most real-life PI-cop relationships are characterized by professional distance and unemotional exchanges. We’re saying most here. A majority of PIs have law enforcement backgrounds, and with the agencies with whom they worked, they typically maintain a more collegial relationship. Do these former law enforcement PIs get perks — such as inside information, tips, and access to law enforcement databases — from their former agencies, which is commonly depicted in books and film? No. Although there are friendly exchanges and social invitations exchanged, neither party wants to be seen as improperly advancing information and displaying favoritism to law enforcement officers (LEOs). In our former private investigations agency, we worked with various PIs who were former LEOs. Generally speaking, we found their life experience to cause their investigations to slant toward law enforcement and prosecution. Although they work for defense lawyers, they still thought like law enforcement officers. Meaning, a PI with a law enforcement background might have unsubstantiated bias against their criminal defense clients. In all fairness, this bias is the product of years on the street with tough, violent, and often dishonest people. To balance this point of view, PIs with law enforcement backgrounds can also understand how police might make mistakes in their investigation procedures, such as Constitutional propriety and evidentiary processing. These PIs are best able to advise defense lawyers about how to attack the integrity of a police investigation.

Can a PI Obtain a Police File?

It’s very difficult for anyone from the private sector, and that includes private investigators, to obtain an open police investigation file, although any private citizen can obtain access to a closed file. But back to an open investigation file: Law enforcement officials might share verbal conclusions, but they would not share the entire body of the file. Often, there is conflict, or at least a lack of cooperation, between the private and public sectors — such as between PIs and police departments. Things get even more complicated when you factor in the federal agencies because they consider most local law enforcement to be inferior agencies. For example, federal agencies frequently defer missing person investigations to local authorities absent special factors, which include kidnap with inter-state transport, kidnap with ransom, child kidnap, international kidnap, and  kidnapping related to international or domestic terrorism.

Why Do Law Firms Hire PIs?

There is a rule of law that says an attorney cannot testify in any matter about his/her own investigation and continue to act as an attorney in that case. So, in most cases, any law firm that presents facts in a disputed case will want to hire an investigator; otherwise, the only other way to get facts on the stand is through testimony from those who actually saw or heard the events in dispute. It’s not that an attorney can’t do the latter (it’s done all the time), it’s that a PI can also present facts such as measurements, photographs, witness evaluation, background facts and data analysis. Having a PI present testimony also circumvents surprises such as a witness changing his/her story after they get on the stand.

– End of Excerpt –

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