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Is Evidence Gathered By a Private Investigator Admissible in Court?

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Private investigators enjoy a classic, popular perception by the general public. When people think of private investigators, PIs, or "private eyes," as they are often called, they typically imagine a gritty, courageous individual who stands up to the bad guys and ultimately does the right thing. Thus it is natural for people to consider employing them to help out with their legal cases if they feel like the information gathered by a private investigator could benefit the case. Nevertheless, one of the main concerns that many people have is whether or not the evidence obtained will even be admissible in court. For that reason, Clay Dugas and Associates offers this page to briefly look at some important considerations and help readers determine what is and what isn’t legally admissible when it comes to private eye gathered evidence.

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When Is PI Evidence Legal?

The good news is that evidence gathered by a private investigator is completely legal and usually admissible in court as long as it has been gathered in a way that doesn’t break the law. That means that any conversations that the PI overhears which take place in public places, in a normal tone of voice, or any pictures that the PI takes of individuals in a public place are usually perfectly legal and admissible.

The key thing in instances like this is whether or not the people involved have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Obviously, if they are chatting about incriminating activities while in the middle of a crowded mall then they do not. By the same token if they are observed doing something in a public place then they similarly do not have an expectation of privacy. In instances like this, the PI is basically acting like any regular eyewitness from a legal standpoint.

When Is PI Evidence Illegal?

Not all evidence gathered by a private investigator is legal, however. For instance, if the PI breaks into a private residence, taps a phone, or uses a planted microphone or listening device in a private place, then evidence gathered in these cases is not generally admissible. That is because any conversations or activities done in private places and behind closed doors have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Evidence gathered as a result of other illegal activities undertaken by the PI will also typically not be admissible, the credibility of the PI may be called into question, or the PI themselves may get into legal trouble. For this reason it is very important to understand that a PI is not above the law. They must still behave in a manner that is legal and they should act with integrity.

What Advantages Do PIs Have?

Some people may wonder why they would bother with a private investigator at all if the person is essentially just a regular citizen who can only obtain evidence that would generally be available to other regular citizens.

However, private eyes do have a number of advantages in a lot of cases:

  • Anonymity – one of the main factors that make PIs valuable for gathering evidence is that they do not come across as suspicious or as people who should be avoided. For instance, if you are the party being wronged, then naturally the perpetrators won’t discuss their plans or continue their actions in front of you. However, if the PI just seems like a regular, uninterested third party, then they may be much more likely to let their guard down.
  • Experience – Private investigators are good at what they do. They know how to watch and listen without being obtrusive and they have the experience and resources to get full, detailed information. A non-professional might make a lot of mistakes that would either give them away or fail to garner enough information to be useful.
  • Time – Private investigators have the luxury of taking their time and waiting for opportune moments to occur. If a regular person were attempting the same thing then it is very likely that their regular life would get in the way. They would need to go to work, attend to their families, take care of personal business. With a PI their job is what they are doing so they can give it their full attention.
  • Freedom – People involved in the legal system are bound by much more strenuous rules and requirements than everyday people such as private investigators. For example, police officers will need to have warrants. Attorneys and judges must also carefully follow codes of conduct and extra laws. However, a private investigator will generally have all of the regular freedoms of any other citizen, which can allow them to do things and obtain information that would not be possible for someone in the legal sector.

    Should I Hire a Private Investigator?

    Ultimately of course only you as an individual, familiar with your own unique set of circumstances, can answer that question. It is important to remember, however, that private investigators are generally an expensive investment to make. They may also not be applicable or useful in some types of cases. However, the above information should give you things to consider while making your decision.

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