Jonathan Kraut, together with Bill Stierle, discusses the importance of private investigation firms in court. When we are faced with a civil, family, criminal, or domestic case, besides having an attorney, a P.I. Firm can help us gain more perspective and additional wisdom and information needed to win the case. Listen to this podcast episode as Jonathan and Bill expound on five ways a private investigation firm can help us win cases.
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Five Ways A P.I. Firm Will Help You Win Your Case
How A Private Investigations Firm Can Assist You In Winning A Civil, Family, Criminal, Or Domestic Case
What we’re going to be talking about are the five ways a PI firm will help you win your case. Jonathan, you’ve been in the investigation business for a long time, with the California Private Investigators license 21529. Tell us a little bit about the five ways a PR firm will help you win your case.
I think you mean PI firm. It could be the same thing. The PI firm is Private Investigations. That’s what it means. In some realms, it could mean something else. A PR firm is Public Relations and a lot of times, the information that a PI firm gathers is relevant to your case or your reputation. With the stuff going on in the press, you can get the truth out. It changes the whole narrative.
I appreciate that correction because if we’re not engaged in gathering good information, it can get out in the wrong way. It’s important to get good facts and the good information that is needed in order to create an impact.
I watch a lot of news and cable. A lot of times, they make statements that are as though they’re facts and there’s no independent verification that they’re true. They’ll say, “This happened.” I don’t know that it happened. They told me and they showed me a picture. As an investigator, I don’t believe them until a person who was there or some document or some information says that what the news agency claims are true. I’m skeptical about it. They start saying, “As we all know, this is the fact and therefore.” I don’t know if it’s a fact. I don’t want to buy into a narrative that may not be truthful or a narrative that may not be leading down the right course. I want to be fair, equitable and independently verifiable.
I appreciate this whole thing because a lot of times in my communication world, it’s the adjustments of, “Here’s the person’s perspective and then here’s the perception.” That gets hijacked into a proportionality. It’s bigger than the reality or lesser than the reality. We could watch what happens in the media a lot. There’s an escalation or a reduction of something. That’s not fully true. How do private investigators assist the legal team? How do they provide this measurable advantage?
Building A Support Team
We’re going to talk about five ways that a PI firm can help your case. First, you need to have an attorney or have one as a consultant. If you don’t have one yet, you should get one soon. Maybe talk to a PI first to find out what kind of attorney you need. A lot of attorneys specialize and some take on work that they’re not ready to handle. The first advantage is the private investigations firm is part of your legal team. In the courtroom, you might see a table at the front with the defendant or the prosecution sitting there with an attorney or two people. In my case, sometimes I don’t sit at the table. I sit in a chair behind the front table. I write out little cards during the case. They don’t remember everything. They’re busy with their case. They forget some detail or question. You ask a witness, we will provide ideas and directions based on the information we have for the legal team not only during the trial but in preparation of the case. How should we proceed? Do you think this person will testify? That’s crucial because the legal team, including a lot of people, expert witnesses, the legal secretary, high firm or they may have an agent, we’re all part of the same process.
It’s building the support around it. It sounds like the private investigator is somebody that is bringing another level of experience, knowledge, wisdom to the environment.The private investigator is somebody who brings another level of experience, knowledge, and wisdom to the cases. Click To Tweet
For example, I’ve been through hundreds of cases and having that experience, maybe with cases that are exactly similar to the same kind of case, my experience is going to be different. My approach or my strategy may be different because of historical experience with that similar issue. The legal team may have a completely different viewpoint. For viewpoints, you have a better strategy and the better approach can be divided.
What a great way to expand the team’s knowledge and wisdom, as well as to be able to adjust the messaging that’s needed inside the court.
It’s not only in the courtroom. For example, “Who should we subpoena? Who would make a great witness?” Digging up things like, “Did you know this person was married to or divorced from or has a child with? Did you know this person used to work?” It’s things that the legal team may not pick up on. It’s not that we’re that bright. A lot of PIs are bright and maybe if I’m included in one, I’ll be happy, but we’re diligent and we’re focused. We’re organized and we keep track of all this stuff. Little details that a prosecutor or a defense attorney would miss.
That perspective, it’s an additional experience that is needed. What’s better than to have somebody else around that and have different experiences so that your team has a better advantage and communication.
One role that we play is that we are a sounding board. The legal team or even the client at times can rehearse or make their case. We would act as the devil’s advocate and say, “Convince me.” What is it that will take to convince a jury or a judge by the other side for a fair resolution? We’ll act as a sounding board in a way and we’re not that partial. We’re trying to be fair and equitable. We gather information, we provide a view. Ultimately, the attorneys decide what to do. We’ll give them our best version of what we think would happen. They don’t have to agree. It’s not up to us to be mad at them or to direct them. We have our role and they have their roles. Being a sounding board and pretending we don’t know anything about the case, we’d sometimes help resolve how to proceed.
That’s interesting, the information that’s unknown. That could be huge.
Even in a trial or a hearing, we’ll sit there with a little 3×5 cards and write out all this stuff. Remember, we’ve interviewed all the witnesses, read all the documents, analyzed financial statements, paperwork, criminal records, civil records or previous lawsuits. We’ve done all that. We remember what they said. We remember the demeanor and the character of the individual and how they would be perceived. Remember that we’re interviewing people that are pertinent to the case that the attorneys have never seen in person or have interviewed. We’re keeping all of that in our heads and on paper and contributing the best that we can.The persistence that a private investigator brings can make a big difference to a case. Click To Tweet
I never thought about the second level of support that a private investigator could bring into the courtroom and providing just-in-time critical information and handing the note to the attorney at the right moment.
In the courtroom, you can’t use a phone. We can’t text each other as to what’s going on. We have to stand up literally, lean forward, hand a card, “Here you go.” A lot of times, the attorneys appreciate it because it keeps them on track. If it’s in negotiation, then it keeps everybody on track.
Locating Witnesses And Serving Subpoenas
What’s number two? It says locate witnesses and serve subpoenas. Tell us a little bit more about that.
There are four options that you can use to find witnesses that are hard to find. For example, if the sheriff’s department wants to serve a subpoena, they’ll knock on the door on three different occasions and they wait about 30 seconds. If nobody answers the door, they go away. If a process server who’s licensed by the state that they’re in does that, they may try five times. They may go to someone’s work and someone’s home, but they don’t. They’re not empowered to do a lot more. They don’t go into the parking lot. They don’t find the car. They don’t wait in the car. They basically go the address and knock on the door. If nobody answers it, they go away. We’ve performed what’s called a skip trace. We have access to confidential data and that confidential data will give us information not readily available to the client that we were serving. For example, we can find relatives’ names, their dates of birth, addresses, country, people that are neighbors. We can run a search of all the neighbors within 300 feet of the home or businesses. We have other ways of finding things. We can get their phone numbers and names of the owners or maybe what vehicles they drive. There’s a lot of information that the public cannot find. That gives us a great advantage.
I can see that having the ability to find people and find where this witness is and to serve the subpoena when it needs to be done can be a big difference.
We have a rule, a little saying that PIs generally do and it says, “Mama always knows or the mother will know where that person is.” Sometimes we can’t. They won’t open the door. We can’t find them. We’ll call the parent or baby mama or baby daddy, whoever it’s going to be. We’ll say, “We’re trying to give these documents. We’re not able to but they’re not in trouble. They’re only a witness. If you can arrange that for us, it would be great. Otherwise, there’ll be a warrant for their arrest or their appearance and they’ll have to be dragged in. All we want to do is talk to them first and see if they’re relevant to the case. If they are relevant, maybe we could have them fill out an affidavit. Maybe they don’t have to go in. I can make it easy. If they need a ride, we’ll take them there.” We’ll ask neighbors. We expand our network to be broad and hopefully efficient.
I’d never thought about that. The persistence that a private investigator brings can make a big difference.
I’d say of the thousands of subpoenas my firm has issued, there probably have been a handful, maybe 5 or 6 that we could not find and nobody knew where they were. We’re relentless. We’ll stake out a home at night on the weekend. We’ll look for the lights going on. We’ll look at the power consumption. We’ll try to get a phone bill, whatever we can get. We’ll try to see who has utility bills. We might call the office. We’ll do a google search or a social media search. We might send an email. Let’s say the guy that we’re trying to find is a car collector. We’ll build a fake profile that we’re also a car collector. We’ll send him a communication. We’ll figure it out. People are cooperative if they only knew that they’re not in trouble. They’re just a witness to a case. Maybe they know something that they can direct us to somebody else and we don’t know. Usually, people are afraid for no reason.
I can see that. It’s getting the information that’s needed for the case.
Our goal is to do an interview. We’ll write some notes. If it’s appropriate, we’ll serve a subpoena. Maybe we already have one and our purpose is to serve a subpoena. We’ll fill out the proof of service form, either we file it with the court or the attorney will have it available at the hearing. If it’s small claims, the person that filed the case has a copy or the respondent will have a copy that we fill out. Serving a subpoena is huge because if you don’t have witnesses, then you don’t have independent information.
The private investigator will even help the witness get to court. They’ll pick them up. Have you done that?
A lot of times. I’ll say, “I don’t want to go, but I’ll come to get you or one of my agents will come to get you.” We pick them up. That way, we get them there to the court. We’ll take them to lunch if there’s a recess. We’ll also reassure them and inform them as to what their role would be, what kind of questions would be asked, how should they approach the proceeding, what this might mean for them if there’s anything. Sometimes, there’s someone that’s undocumented. We’ll have our driver be from that same country, whatever country if we can or similar language to reassure them they’re only a witness. They’re not being prosecuted or detained. In the court, we make it clear that this person’s a witness and is not to be detained. The judge will say, “I’m not allowing anyone to come in.” We don’t provide that information to anybody. All our interest is in getting information or witnesses to the court that’s relevant to the case.
Gathering And Evaluating Evidence
It sounds like it naturally rolls into number three, which is gathering and evaluating pieces of evidence. You’re going to assist in securing the witness, but also any information that’s coming in that direction.
Usually, we have a rule of thumb. We try to interview everybody at three different times. The first time is to get a feel for what they know and don’t know and if it is irrelevant. After we’ve interviewed everybody, which might be 3, 30 or 90 people, then we’d go back and ask questions again. A lot of times, the answers from the different people don’t match. The third time, we’ll go back again after we jog their memory. Now, we know what happened and we want to find out who is credible and who is not. If they’re deceiving us, why are they deceiving us? Are they protecting anybody? We dig in. That’s why investigations take a while. You’ve got to pause all of that at once. You’ve got to give time for people to think about it and to react.If you want to win your case, you have to do it right. Click To Tweet
We’ll provide measurements. We’ll take pictures, measure skid marks and estimate the speed of a vehicle. We can review documents like statements, employment records, DD 214, which is a military discharge. There’s a code in the DD 214 that tells you the nature of the discharge. If somebody will look at that and say, “They were discharged at this rank,” there are little codes in there that tell us that they could have been thrown out for a reason or busted by rank or demoted. We can use financial analysts called a Certified Financial Examiner or CFE. They do an independent audit of what the audit is saying. That could be an expert witness that we can provide or we can review the other side’s expert or we can do a simple audit before the case to determine if there are any assets to go after or how much might occur. There are a lot of ways that we can gather and evaluate information.
I’m looking at all these different lists of things, the provided photos, videos, measurements, analysis, analyzing data, police reports, statements. They may use a Certified Financial Examiner to conduct interviews that may be three times per witness. There’s a pretty good list of things. They help rule out, in and out the theories based on the facts, comparative timelines and statements. Our audiences that are reading the blog can come back to the video and look at this piece because it is rich with a checklist of the different ways that a private investigator gathers and evaluates the evidence.
One reason we’re doing this show is so that people know that there’s a lot more than following someone around to see if they’re cheating. We don’t do that a lot here and there but usually, we’re interviewing potential witnesses, evaluating data, providing a summary for the attorneys or for the client. We’re comparing timelines. The timeline is probably one of the most valuable tools that we provide. Let’s say we had a case, a woman claimed that she went to her ex-boyfriend’s house and knocked on the door. He came out, beat her up and she went home. Two days later, she called the police. We went to trial, it’s a criminal trial. We did criminal defense. She said she went to his house at 1:00.
At 1:00, there was a football game with two famous teams. I won’t say who and one of the guys watching the game was a police detective. I don’t know him. He was present during the game. He said that nobody knocked on the door. He would remember if anyone knocked on the door because no one came to the door. They were watching the game together. The detective was a neighbor of our client. She changed her story and they said, “It was the wrong day. It’s another day.” The timeline was off.
The other day, he happened to be out of town at a company conference. The boy had his airline tickets, hotel reservation and a selfie of him and his workers in front of the hotel. The timeline blew the case out. The other thing is that she never was struck or harmed by this guy. She put makeup on her face and took a selfie when she went to the police department the day after the claim. She had no bruises or injuries to her face the day before they were there. How is that possible? We evaluated the film, her photos and by changing some items in the data of the film, we could see that it was a paint and makeup and not consistent with a real injury. The timeline ended the case barely. The guy was dismissed. I’m not sure if the prosecution went after her for filing a false police report. The timeline and all that evidence is an example of all the things that go into the work that we do.
You might even have to get on the stand. You may be called upon as an expert witness, becoming an asset to change the outcome of the case because of this integral role that you’re playing inside the environment. You may be included for the testimony and the opinions regarding any element of the case.
Acting As An Expert Witness
There are two roles that we can play besides gathering and providing information. One role is that we might act as an expert witness. For example, there was a case where someone made a claim that they saw someone point a gun. Where were you standing? How far away was the window? What was covering the window? Was it day or night? We went and measured it. We determined that at that distance, which is hundreds of feet at night with the light bulb on, if I was holding a piano or a TV in front of the window, you could not see it. We testified as an expert that we went at that time. We looked at that distance. We couldn’t even see a silhouette. It was far away. How could they possibly see it? That was a witness testimonial because we reenacted it. We as an expert determined when he could not see it. I had three different people stand there in case my eyes are red. We all did not see what the person claimed. We could not see what the person claims. It is far away.The attorneys usually have the voice, but the private investigators give them the words to say. Click To Tweet
You can capture all kinds of things: abusive behavior, domestic violence, misconduct, character flaws, the whole thing. You can capture that in. There’s a part as an expert witness because you’re used to doing that.
In domestic violence and domestic abuse, for example, I’ve handled personally hundreds, maybe thousands of cases. I’ve interviewed thousands of witnesses or victims or abusers easily. The patterns and their behavior processes are similar. We can be called in as an expert witness for domestic violence cases. I happened to write a book on it. We can make our judgment as an expert witness providing an uninformed opinion. We’re not necessarily providing an interpretation of facts. We’re taking the information we have and we can be considered a credible source for the judgment of what might’ve happened and why did it happen.
The reports, the analysis, all that stuff can go into building this essential case because the ultimate outcome is to provide information. This is number five on your list, the attorney is needed in the course. With this number five, if you’re providing information to the attorneys that are needed in the course, while the attorneys can cost up to $600 an hour to gather the information, the big thing is cost-saving by getting a private investigator on your team.
There are several reasons. One is we do this for a living so we’re thorough and we’re patient. We’re not in a hurry. We’re trying to get everything right. We’re trying to rule on things and rule out things like, “This could have happened. This could not have happened.” The attorney cannot call themselves as a witness. They cannot be cross-examined. An outside person, which is an investigator or their agent would be cross-examined by both sides. We’re a lot cheaper. We are practiced in this process. We’re licensed specifically to do this kind of work.
I imagine many clients are coming into this environment and it is a foreign experience for them to have an expert that has been there in and out of court. This is what the judge says. These are the different pacings of things. This is the reflection to outline the case. It can be essential that the attorney can play off the private investigator to build that in.
If you want to win your case, you have to do it right. If you’re trying to save money and you’re paying attorneys to do the work that investigators should do, you’re spending 3 to 4 times as much. There are limitations to what an attorney can do, to be honest. We like the attorney to go with us sometimes to hear what the witness would say. Even though we’re writing our notes and we’re making a recording or documentation of what happened and if the attorney was present, he can ask questions. That’s fine. We can be asked to provide information in the court where the attorney can’t voluntarily put it out without ruining their role in the case.
What are the elements that you have written down? The information on there is a PI could be used to establish a foundation before the testimony. It’s almost like you’re laying out the concrete that the case is built on so that they can put the walls up and the roof up. They’re able to build it from the foundation up. A testimony of the private investigator to the attorney in front of the judge can make a big difference.
Bill, that’s what a layperson like you would say, but the foundation is a legal definition. The foundation is you cannot take pictures and show them to the court. The foundation is asking the person who took the pictures. The attorney would say, “Did you take pictures? What are these pictures?” Then they can be entered as an exhibit or a piece of evidence. You cannot put them in as evidence. You have to have what’s called build a foundation. If there’s an objection for lack of foundation, they’re saying these are documented.
It’s a true thing, isn’t it? This is true and you’re under oath kind of foundation.
Yes, “Where did it come from and who provided it?” That’s what foundation means. You can’t say, “These are the documents that I got. Where’s your subpoena? Who fills out the form? Can I call and verify that these are accurate? Can I bring them in to cross-examine that? What do these mean?” All of these were part of the legal process.
“Was it attained legally or not? Who is this witness? Are you the person that talked to them and point to them in the room?”
The evidence in this country is very strict. The reason is because of fairness. We want to have the evidence introduced as fair, untainted and independently verifiable.
In reviewing this, why does a private investigator or a PI firm make a difference? In short, they provide crucial evidence. It’s cheaper. They gather information faster, testify as an expert, provide and testify regarding admissible evidence. This foundation, you could tell a story about this. You make the dig that’s necessary for the people and the evidence. As a private investigator, you have special access to information that many people don’t have.
An analogy that we often use in discourse is the attorneys usually have a great voice, but we give them the words of what does it say. They can’t go in blind and win a case based on arguing against what the other person or the other side has to say. This is common. The government may prosecute someone without a deep review there. The prosecutor may have information or interpretation of information that is inaccurate. Police reports are written by people who write tickets. We tend not to value a lot of that information is accurate. Some are good, some are not really good. We’re the ones that will go in and dig for, “Who were the witnesses? Who is there? What kind of money was being made? Was there a gun? Was there a knife? Was there somebody working who claimed not to work for child support?” Whatever the issue is, we’re going to dig for that way beyond the level of law enforcement or a public defender.
If we’re providing good insight, then this is what we need to do. If I was looking for somebody, then I need to ask some important questions like, “Does this firm issue subpoenas? Does this firm have access to confidential information? Does the firm’s staff fully support your case? Is the firm licensed in your state?” These are good crucial questions to ask before someone hires a person. How long has the firm been in business? Are they new at this? How many similar cases did you already take? Is there any story that you can see that maybe you’ve gotten hired after somebody did a crappy job and you had to come in and clean it up?
I would say 30% of our cases, if not more. How many times we’ve come in for half the money? We’ve got to everything, clean it up. I don’t know why some investigators are in business, but that’s not my decision. That’s up to them. I don’t fault the client for not knowing. One reason we’re making this is for people to make a better choice. That’s why we’re here. If subpoenas are not issued by a firm, if they can’t access confidential information, and when we’re fully staffed to handle it, there should be one or two agents in the office doing background checks, screening, pulling court records, going online. There should also be one or two people in the field. You don’t want to have a one-man show or one-woman show. The court needed simultaneously. You can’t provide it if you have one person in some simple cases.
The third question is the firm staff to support your case fully. If there’s a one-person, it might not be enough to support the case that you’re doing.
For example, we have a good number of people, but there are a few cases that we’re over our heads. We don’t have 200 people here. It’s a huge case. It might take a few years. We’re probably not going to take that one. Not because we don’t want the money, but we wouldn’t earn it. We won’t earn money. It’s not the right situation.
We’re only using a licensed PI agency that can define specific support. The big thing for the client to go after is to establish clear objectives, even call you to have that reflection to even work and has sign authorization. Make sure the attorney is fine with it. I’m sure there are some examples there and allocate time and funds for that as well as they provide a thoughtful approach with integrity and demonstrates trust and support. Those are the summary of things that you have on your slide that you outlined. It sounds like people can check in with you for this.
Sometimes, we’ll be asked to do work and we’ll always say, “What is it? What are the objectives that we’re trying to determine?” An example is a woman who would say, “I want to prove that my husband is cheating.” We can’t prove that they’re cheating if they’re not cheating. We only can prove they’re cheating if they’re cheating. We can’t always prove it unless we’re on them all the time. If they don’t have a budget for us to be on them all the time, or at least reasonable hours like weekends or evenings or when they’re out, if they don’t have the resources available, we may not meet that objective. We could get lucky and maybe not. There are a few cases where the law firm that was representing a potential client said, “We don’t need a PI. We’re just going to wing it. We’re going to go into court, save yourself some money.” Unfortunately, a lot of those cases don’t come out well because the attorneys were not open to help and support information that would have changed the case. That’s the client’s decision.
For more information about ways that Net Check can provide support, I am inviting you to check out the website, NetCheckPI.com. I’m guessing that you welcome people to contact your staff.
We ask our friends and those concerned about what to do next to call. We’d like to give clear direction whether we’re used or not. It’s not relevant. Let’s first see what the approach might be and what the goals would be. We only operate in California and we do background screening nationwide, but surveillance work, we only are allowed to do it locally. We have a network of investigators that can access every court in every county. If the records needed in any state, we can get them to do our network. If their agents needed in some other state, we have a network where we have PIs and PI firms all over the US. We’re happy to help answer questions and allow the right outcome to come about.
I recommend our audience to give you a call and check out your website and reach out. Jonathan, thank you so much for your time. This has been fascinating and looking forward to the next episode where you’re able to get this information out to support your clients and support people that are needing that next level of support. It’s wonderful to be here with you.
Thank you, Bill.