Are private investigator reports discoverable?
When you hire a private investigator, it’s usually to investigate some matter for you. Maybe you’re an individual who is looking to find a lost friend that you want to reconnect with. Perhaps you own a company and you think one of your employees is doing something fraudulent and you’d like to catch them. Or possibly you are married and you think your spouse is cheating. At lastly, perhaps you are an attorney and you have a desperate need to find a witness to help you with your case.
All of these scenarios are legitimate reasons to hire a private investigator to work on your case. As part of that work the private investigator will usually provide you with a report of their findings. Sometimes this report is a verbal report but most times a private investigator will provide you with a written report of their findings and sometimes you will have video evidence.
Many states in the United States require that a private investigator provide you with a report if they’re charging you money to obtain information. In some states, you can request that the private investigator not provide you with a report. And so the question arises, are private investigator reports discoverable?
None of the following is intended as legal advice and is not intended to replace the advice and counsel of a competent attorney. The following is for information purposes only and is not to be considered legal advice.
Most private investigators conduct their work using the following rule:
“ Assume whatever you do might someday be used in a court of law”
This means that you too, as the client of the private investigator should assume that whatever evidence you have asked them to obtain might be used in court one day and be placed in the public record for the world to see. How could this happen if you do not want it to happen?
If you are using a private investigator to gather information on your behalf then it’s very likely that there is some adversary or adversarial situation in your life. This means other people are involved and the fact that always remains about other people? You can’t control their actions.
Other people aren’t going to do things on your schedule or per your wishes. They are going to act on their own behalf and seek to protect themselves whatever the situation may be. As a result, they may request the private investigator reports by using the court’s process of discovery.
When they do this and a subpoena is issued to the private investigator, in most cases the private investigator has to turn over whatever the other party has requested. At minimum, this will be reports, notes and any other findings. But, it could also include text messages, copies of recorded phone calls, emails and any other communication you have had with the private investigator.
There is one possible way to protect your evidence from being discoverable. If you have your attorney hire the private investigator directly then the evidence obtained might be protected and you and your attorney can decide to use that evidence at the time that’s right for you. You should talk to your attorney about this process and the process is called “attorney work product”.
Again, none of the above is to be considered legal advice. You should not follow anything you’ve read above without talking to a competent licensed attorney and obtaining their counsel on how to process with your particular matter.
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