Can Private Investigators Break the Law?


No. Private investigators can do many cool things – with their ability to unearth information that alters the direction of a case being the coolest – but Hollywood movies have severely over dramatised what powers they have and how much of the law they’re subjected to (Hint: it’s all of law). Bottom line? Private investigators can’t break the law, primarily because no one is above the law. But if the popularity of this question is anything to go by, there needs to be a detailed examination of why they can’t break the law.

First, private investigators, regardless of how cool their licenses and gadgets look, are private citizens offering private services. Some states may grant them broader powers than others, but never on the same level as actual law enforcement agents.

Second, no one is allowed to break the law. Even police officers whose job descriptions may require breaking the law need to do so with the permission of their superior, and it has to be as a result of exigent circumstances. Private investigative firms that make unfounded claims about how much of the law they can break are either trying to scam you or are amateurs who don’t really know what they’re doing because – most states don’t require private investigators to be licensed. Hence private investigators that break the law will find themselves in jail.

It isn’t uncommon in movies and books to see private investigators detain and sometimes even interrogate criminals – which in real life is considered kidnapping. True, some states allow ordinary citizens to detain criminals, but the circumstances are entirely different when the person goes out of their way to apprehend the criminal. Refer to Truth Private Investigator to learn more about how private detectives ought to behave. In line with not breaking the law, here are specific actions that would constitute breaking the law.

What Private Investigators Can and Can’t Do

– They can’t legally make an arrest. As private citizens, PI’s are obligated to contact law enforcement when they witness a crime, instead of trying to apprehend the offender. Arresting another person institutes impersonation of a law enforcement agent, and this is against the law.

– They can follow people. As long as they’re in a public space, private investigators can observe a subject and take notes or recordings of what the subject’s doing. Stakeout is about the only stereotype the movies got right.

– They can’t trespass. Though surveillance on public property is allowed, following the subject to private property is against the law. The loophole in this is unless the person being followed co-owns the property with another person, and the co-owner gives the private investigator their consent to enter their property.

– They can’t hack into phones or mails. This concerns the private property of another citizen, so private investigators aren’t legally allowed to wiretap or intercept mails. Any evidence gotten through this will be inadmissible in court, and could land the PI in jail.

– They can work with law enforcement. Yes, Sherlock Holmes got it right. Law enforcement agents do sometimes work with private investigators, but only after they’ve gone over all the evidence available to them.

What are the steps in an investigation?


When conducting investigations, private investigators must always be prepared and be willing to have some things into considerations. No research can ever be successful if there is no planning in advance. The investigators must have such preparations so they can know what the type of methods they should be using as well as their targeted areas are. Below are well-arranged steps that ought to be followed by qualified private investigators they need to get positive results in their investigations.

Steps for Conducting Investigations

1. Discovering the Problem

The investigators must take the first step by identifying what the problem might be without waiting for a complaint to be formally filled. They need to investigate any suspected misconduct in the first 24-hours.

2. Conducting Pre-investigation

The investigators should then consider types of steps they need to consider, so they can’t get themselves into any problems in the future. They need to know who a potential witness has then researched the suspect following the files and the records. Investigators can conduct any of their available supervisors.

3. Prepare the Strategy for Investigation

The investigators should then prepare their strategy where they should add on the timeline together with the questions they will ask. They can consult the available agreement or arbitration union and the company policy if there are restrictions when conducting the process.

4. Interview the Complainant

The investigators can address security and special issues where they should reiterate on the commitment of the company to maintain impartiality and neutrality during the investigation. Confidentiality should not be promised, but the distributed information should be the one people want to know only. Remember, investigation notes should never be placed in personal life since it should always remain permanently confidential.

5. Interview the Witnesses

When interviewing with the witnesses, advise them, there are no judgments made yet. However, never promise them that you will remain confidential and remind them of discussing an interview with each other is prohibited. Also, tell them that retaliation against other people like complainant is highly forbidden.

6. Interview Focusing on Investigation

Tell a person if they are suspected of conducting negatively and allowing them to adequately respond to their accusations as well as them to provide corroborating witnesses. Also, remind them a complainant can’t be retaliated.

7. Analyze the Results

Here, you can review the notes as you access the witnesses’ credibility. You can then determine if you get the accurate picture of that which occurred. Also, ensure that whatever type of discipline you will impose should be consistent according to the practices of the company. You can take the second investigation level if you think your information does not convince you fully.

8. Implement an Action

Here, you can then take the remedial measures according to your findings from the investigation. When a person has been cleared, then you should explain to them that the findings never substantiate any suspicion from them.

9. Do Follow Up

Here, you will draft the confidential report which documents the result of the investigation. You can conduct the person’s follow up in their different training areas if possible. You can remind the freed ones about the policies and procedures to be followed.

The above steps, when well handled, will be the best ones to offer the best investigations of any incidence that might occur.