By: Scott Ross
            Television has distorted the role and real life of a PI, but the question remains the same, under what circumstances would I need a PI? Since there is no quick fix answer, the follow is a possible of scenario where you would need a PI.
            Let’s say, you’ve been arrested for murder. Again, contrary to popular belief, a significant percentage of cases go unsolved and sometimes the wrong person is arrested. But once a crime has been committed and the police are called out, a preliminary report is generated, typically by a patrol unit. That report is transferred to the detectives who investigate the crime. Uniformed officers and detectives have very different roles in a criminal matter and without understanding their respective differences, a person who has been arrested can become very confused.
            Here’s the set up: You come home one Saturday night and your daughter’s boyfriend is dead on your kitchen floor. As happy as you may be, initially, you notice he’s got a knife sticking out of his back and instinctively, you rush over to try to help him, primarily since he’s making a huge mess. Your first thought, of course, is to turn him over to confirm it’s him, oh yeah, and also to see if he’s alive. In order to do this, however, you remove the knife since your next thought is to perform CPR and you need him on his back.
            While your wife is calling 911, you realize he’s dead by now, but when an ambulance and the first police car appear, you are standing over his still warm body holding the murder weapon. The first thing you will hear is, “Drop the knife and step away from the body.” Its right about now that you see there are a couple of police officers pointing their guns at you. This is where the fun begins. You are told to get on the ground, and spread your legs and arms so you look like you are in the middle of a face down jumping jack. This is when you get frisked and handcuffed by the younger more athletic junior officer, while the other one inevitably says, “Why’d you do it?”
            Although you are now in custody and the police are required to advise you of your right to an attorney, that won’t actually happen until after you talk to them. And contrary to popular belief, anything you say will be called a “spontaneous statement” and will be used against you no matter what.
            So time moves on, 48 hours to be exact, when they arraign you and have decide exactly what you did, no matter how much or how loud you protest your innocence.  The police will find a motive; as simple as the victim was “mean” to your daughter. This is an open ended comment that could be anything from being physically violent toward your daughter to drinking directly out of orange juice bottle. They’ll call you a liar and then, themselves lie, telling you there are “several witnesses” that saw you fighting with the victim 20 minutes before you called 911. (“Several witnesses” is to the police what
“two beers” is to the person stopped for while driving under the influence.) They will tell you your DNA is on the knife, when you know it will be because you pulled it out of his back. This is when you get an attorney who (hopefully) hires a PI.
            The PI then sits with you and retraces your steps of the evening while you await a coroner’s report determining the approximate time of death. This usually takes about 3 days but they don’t release the report for about 3 weeks citing time for the toxicology screen to come back. But all the while, you are being held either on $1 million dollars bail or more likely, no bail at all.
            A good PI can trace your steps, either through things like credit card receipts, cell phone towers or actual witnesses. The police typically have one thing in mind, not trying to determine who committed the murder, but spending their time trying to proving it was you. It’s the old theory, “The path of least resistance.”
            The role of a PI is to find exculpatory evidence, anything that might support your innocence it is not to “solve” the case; that is what the police are supposed to be doing. The focus of a defense can be established in one sentence and attributed to the great attorney Harland Braun, “A criminal defense is based on the weakness of the prosecution.”
            DNA is a relatively new(er) science and has regular growth like all others. What they don’t tell you is that your DNA will be nothing more that “transfer” DNA. In essence, you only touched a certain portion of the knife in order to remove it from the body. Then there is “purposeful” DNA, where you (hopefully not) or someone has held the knife with a tightened fist in order to thrust the blade into the body. Very different.
            Cell towers can place you in a specific area at a specific time. And although they are not a clear and concise science, they are a useful tool. The police will not typically go in search of video cameras along a path of travel you may have taken; stop at a gas station for a tape of you there at a specific time where there is no record because you paid cash, or find people who can confirm your whereabouts.
            At your arraignment, your attorney will receive your discovery, police reports that have been prepared to date with possible witness information. In my experience, it is not uncommon for the witness statements in the report to not match what the officers have written. It’s best to get the story directly from them and not go by what ends up in a police report. All witnesses need to be re-interviewed to confirm what was actually said.
            In short, you need someone who is going to walk the streets for you and listen to your version of events, and that’s why you need a PI…the highly condensed version.