Most people will probably never need the help of a private investigator. Law enforcement is the obvious choice when a crime has been committed, but what about personal matters where no law has been broken? Understandably, many people never think about the legality of private investigation until making the decision to hire a PI. Potential clients often ask themselves, “Is hiring a private investigator legal?”
Table of Contents
Is Hiring a Private Investigator Legal?
To get straight to the point – Yes, it is completely legal to hire a private investigator.
In fact, most states in the US make it very easy for consumers to differentiate between professional and non-professional investigators. Most states have enacted strict licensing requirements for individual private investigators and for operating an investigative agency.
Of the states that do not explicitly require a private investigator license (Alaska, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Wyoming), Alaska and Wyoming still require a business license to operate and specific cities within these states have their own PI licensing requirements.
Idaho, Mississippi, and South Dakota all have state associations with strict requirements for membership. The associations act as governing bodies over PI activities and help consumers differentiate between professional and non-professional agencies.
Private Investigators are Not Above the Law
Hiring a private investigator to do something illegal is itself illegal. One common example involves restraining orders. When a court issues an order of protection, the restrained person is prevented from making contact by any means with the protected person. If a PI were hired to follow around the protected person, it would be viewed by the courts as if the restrained person were doing the act themselves. Not to mention putting the PI at risk of civil liability and criminal prosecution.
Other illegal acts that clients often ask private investigators to conduct:
- Tampering with mail
- Bribing witnesses
- Impersonating another person
- Invading a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy
The mere fact of going to a PI and asking for a service that would otherwise be illegal could amount to criminal conspiracy. Both the requestor and the PI could face criminal charges if the incident were not reported to law enforcement. In fact, an ethical investigator would refuse the assignment and immediately contact law enforcement regarding the request.
Just because a PI is licensed does not grant any special authority above any other citizen. PI’s still must follow the law like everyone else. In fact, private investigators are held to a higher standard because they must know and understand the laws pertaining to the cases they work and must also abide by all state laws regulating the work of private investigation.
Be Confident When Hiring a Private Investigator
Contacting attorney is the quickest and most helpful way to know for sure if the issue you want to investigate is legal or not. The discussions with your attorney are protected by attorney-client privilege, so you can get reliable legal advice even if you’re uncertain about the laws regarding your investigation request. A lawyer can hire a private investigator on your behalf, making any investigative findings also protected by attorney-client privilege.
When working through an attorney or even when hiring a private investigator on your own, it’s very important to provide the investigator with all the information you have regarding your potential case. Any notes, pictures, electronic documents, video files, and even recollections from your own memory. The investigator can decide what is relevant to your case and can use all the information you provide to build out an effective investigative plan.
Good Reasons to Legally Hire a Private Investigator
- Pre-screening of job applicants
- Conducting due diligence on potential investments
- Performing background checks on potential business partners
- Determining the cause of property damage
- Locating missing persons
- Verifying injury claims
- Interviewing witnesses in civil and criminal cases
- Conducting surveillance related to any of the above
Is hiring a private investigator legal? Yes, as long as the investigator is licensed, and you aren’t hiring them to do something illegal.
H7 Investigative Services conducts private investigations in Santa Clarita, Antelope Valley, and throughout the greater Los Angeles area.
If you want to find out how our agency can help with your case, click through to our consultation request page or call us at (661)454-7513.