I’m a brand new PI and have a potential client who suspects that his wife is being unfaithful. He wants me to perform surveillance on her and would like to use any evidence I gather for a divorce.
What are the general rules for providing clients with surveillance videos? Especially if the surveillance videos show the client’s spouse being intimate with someone else?
Can I give the surveillance video directly to the client? If so, should I blur out the face (and any identifying features) of the person who is being intimate with the client’s spouse? Or is it better to send the surveillance video directly to the client’s attorney for liability reasons, and for the safety of everyone involved incase the client becomes upset?
Is there anything else I should be aware of when providing surveillance videos to clients?
I’d be interested in hearing the feedback you received on this. It was my understanding that because our surveillance work is typically conducted in public settings, in absence of reasonable expectation of privacy”, any footage obtained of the OW/OM engaging in intimate acts in a public setting should be permissible to share with the client whom hired you to obtain said evidence. Your intent and purpose regarding the distribution of video evidence should be covered. I do know for certain that your contract should always cover the legalities, and specify the legal purpose of evidence obtained-strictly prohibit any illegal conduct (state specifics) related to evidence/information submitted to client.
I apologize for not seeing this sooner. Yes you can provide your video to your client. In fact, they are expecting it as part of the services provided. The saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” really is true. We typically will take still shots from the video and embed into the report showing key moments and activity.
As for when and where to shoot video, there is the “Naked eye doctrine” which basically says “if you can see it with the naked eye then you can shoot video of it.” A person has no expectation of privacy in any public area. If a person has their curtains or blinds open and they are doing jumping jacks in their living room, you can shoot video as long as you can see it from the street. In one case we worked, we obtained video of a guy working on a tractor. He tried to say that we trespassed and that we used high-end camera lens. We had to produce the camera we used, which was a Sony that we bought off the shelf at Best Buy. Our video showed our investigator shooting video of the church sign, the parking lot at the church where he was sitting, the street, the barbed-wire fence and then the subject working on his tractor. The judge dismissed both accusations stating we did not trespass and we did not violate any privacy laws.
That being said, you can’t climb a tree to look into a backyard or use a drone to peer into the yard. I hope this helps!
If your videos are captured without violation of law or ethics, then of course you can give them to the client; however, it seems that is not the question you are trying to answer. When working domestic cases, the client is very emotionally involved and heavy emotions cloud people’s judgement, and this may lead to some uncontrollable behavior, that may be the urge to blow your surveillance or compromise evidence collected or even lead to criminal acts.
The question is: should you give the client video or other evidence that will elicit a highly emotional response from your client?
The answer is that you must prepare the client and manage the emotional state depending on the client. We are not psychologist, however, what sets a good detective apart from the rest is their knowledge of human behavior. Determine a method of relaying emotional information to a client in stages. This is what is known as client management.
Stage 1: Remind them that the goal in a domestic surveillance is to prove three (3) elements
a) The subject had the opportunity to commit infidelity
b) The subject had the time to commit infidelity (some courts have ruled that 15 minutes in a room with a member of the opposite sex is enough time)
c) The subject has the intent or inclination to commit infidelity (i.e. displays of affection in public, text or email communications, etc.)
Sometimes all three elements can be proven with one session of surveillance, other times it may take multiple sessions to piece together.
Stage 2: Report to the client that it seems like you may have been able to establish the elements of infidelity; however, need to review all the information gathered. Don’t answer anything direct and delay at least 24 hours.
Stage 3: Report that it looks like the evidence has proven that the subject is having an affair and you would like to get them the information. Describe some of the video to them in a clinical manner. Let the client know that the video will be ready the next day or in two days and give them a choice if they want a see the video or just send it directly to the attorney. (most will want to see it, but this is a good method of gaging their emotions, possible reactions and buys you some time as a cooling off period)
Stage 4: Show them the video in your office if possible or be present with them so you can gage their emotional state. Figure out the best conversation you can have to keep your client focused and thinking logical. (have standard speech that can be adjusted to circumstances and personality of the client)
Hope this helps; your client management techniques will improve with experience. Individual private clients that involve domestic cases or child custody cases usually have the highest emotional involvement. Being able to ethically manage emotional clients is a responsibility that we have to our profession and general public, so we must have a plan to mitigate any possible bad behavior.
Charge enough money, maintain good business practices and ethics so you don’t find yourself being THAT GUY that manipulates the client’s emotions for financial gain.
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