Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lust, Ethics and the Private Eye

Today, when thoughts are turning to love, my guest is Colleen Collins who's going to share some ideas about the pros and cons of private investigators. Colleen is also going to give away TWO e-copies of her mystery novel, The Zen Man. Leave a comment by Friday, and you're entered in the drawing. You'll have to check back over the weekend to see if you're a winner, and how to claim your prize.

Being a private investigator as well as a writer, and that it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought it’d be interesting to discuss the pros and cons of private investigators and their chosen love interests. We read about these entanglements in stories all the time -- from Sam Spade falling into the sack with a wide variety of dames to private eyes conducting more serious affairs with police detectives, clients, even other PIs. Although there aren’t always legal restrictions, there are often ethical ones in such romantic liaisons.

Let’s first look at the implications of a private investigator getting involved with a law enforcement officer.

Romance with a Law Enforcement Officer

I recently finished a wonderful private eye novel by Jeff Shelby (Liquid Smoke) that features a private eye whose girlfriend is a police detective. Although the police-detective-girlfriend was interested in her boyfriend-PI’s case, she knew better than to get overly involved because her participation in the case had the potential to undermine a legal proceeding. Besides, her department had already assigned other detectives (and the department, knowing about her involvement with the PI, had purposefully not assigned her to work the case as well).

Why were the department and girlfriend-detective being cautious? Because if a romantically involved PI and officer are on different sides of a case, and share--or even appear to share--case information, it can compromise the integrity of both the defense and the prosecution in the trial judge’s eyes. More important, the defendant, after learning that the prosecution and defense investigators were bed partners, could file for a new trial.

Romance with a Client

Lawyers, physicians, accountants and psychologists cannot legally get involved with their clients because those professional-client relationships are interwoven with significant trust. However, in many jurisdictions, there is no legal ban forbidding a PI getting involved with a client.

Even without legal prohibitions, there are powerful reasons why a PI should scrupulously avoid romantic entanglements with clients. Probably the most critical reason is the PI’s loss of professional objectivity. After all, clients hire PIs to make factual discoveries, not be advocates of their versions of events.

Additionally, when an attorney retains the services of a PI, the PI then becomes an agent of that law firm, and the PI’s conduct is covered by the attorney’s code of professional responsibility. If the PI were to get romantically involved with a client, the attorney could be viewed as authorizing the investigator’s sexual misconduct with a client, and the attorney could easily lose his/her license.

But as Terry’s Place has a large following of writers, let’s chat a moment about several juicy plot implications of having a private eye getting steamy with a client:

- A DA could claim that the private eye was so involved with his/her client that information favorable to the client was manufactured or tampered with.

- If the DA claimed evidentiary fraud by the PI and it was supported with any evidence, that could result in the client losing his/her lawyer-client and PI-client communication privilege.

- As mentioned above, if the PI was working very closely with the lawyer, and at the same time sleeping with that lawyer’s client, the lawyer could be held accountable for his employee’s conduct, resulting in a severe penalty for the lawyer. If that PI is in a regulated state, the PI too could also be slapped with a license sanction for sexual misconduct.

Romance with a Fellow PI

There could be an ethical dilemma if PIs who are working opposite sides of a case get involved. Similar to a PI being involved with a law enforcement officer, lawyers and judges could challenge the integrity of evidence obtained by either PI. Also, both PIs’ professional reputations would be subject to challenge because they lost objectivity and placed their hearts in front of their careers.

I’m married to my PI business partner, and we never accept work on opposites sides of a case. We either work on the same case, or we each work our own, independent cases.

My current novel, The Zen Man, features a protagonist private eye who must find the real killer within 30 days or face certain conviction for a murder he didn’t commit. He conducts investigations with his girlfriend, which isn’t a problem as they’re both working the same case.

But they have another kind of problem being PIs in love. It seems whenever they have a romantic interlude, they’re interrupted by work demands. Which sometimes happens to yours truly and her husband (we co-own an investigations agency). Tonight we’re planning a Valentine’s Day dinner at a romantic restaurant, but if (for example) we get a call that a critical witness we’ve been trying to interview is suddenly available, our romantic meal can become heated leftovers at midnight shared with our Rottweilers.

What do you think of these pros and cons? Leave a comment, be eligible to win a copy of The Zen Man.

Colleen Collins is a multi-published author and private investigator. Her current novel, The Zen Man, is available on Kindle  and Nook .

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Jenyfer Matthews said...

Very interesting points! I'm thinking back to the Sue Grafton series where she was involved with police detectives from time to time. Maybe ethics were different in the 80s, back when those were set, ha ha.

Must be interesting to run a PI business with your husband - love to hear more about that sometime!

Colleen Collins said...

Good morning Jenyfer and Happy Valentine's Day!

Although ethics weren't different, there certainly weren't as many internal departmental procedures and regulations in the 80s as there are now.

Yes, it's interesting, entertaining, and sometimes even challenging to run a PI business with one's spouse :)

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary said...

Can there be sexual tense between the PI and the client, but not followed through until the end of the case. Would that still cause an issue with the legal aspects of the case? Would they ever be able to get together. Cases can & do come back to court.

I think working as team PI is great. Couldn't do that with my hubby.

Colleen Collins said...

Hi Mary,

To answer your question >>Can there be sexual tense between the PI and the client, but not followed through until the end of the case...Cases can & do come back to court.<<

Good question. Sexual tension = no problem. Sexual activity after conclusion of case = no problem. You asked if there'd be a problem if the case came back to court. As long as the previously mentioned rules are followed = no problem in court.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Interesting post! I've always wondered where the line is for personal relationships and romance for PIs and law enforcement. Thanks for filling us in.

Morgan Mandel said...

I can see how that could be a real problem, falling in love with someone who might present a conflict of interest.
Morgan Mandel

Karen C said...

Even as a reader I found this post interesting. Quite a dilemma in real life and for authors.
Happy Valentine's Day!

Grace said...

Extremely interesting. Thanks for explaining the romantic pitfalls that can bring a PI (and employer) down. Terry's right. Great writing fodder.

Maryann Miller said...

There are boundaries that should not be crossed when it comes to dating another PI or a cop dating another cop. Or a cop getting involved with a CI. Sometimes having a character cross that boundary can set up another level of conflict and drama in a story.

Janet Kerr said...

This is a very interesting post.
I suppose that some of these ethical dilemnas could become part of the plot to add even more conflict.
Something to think about!

Colleen Collins said...

Dropping by again, checking if there were any other questions. Love the comments. So true that crossing this ethical line could be a juicy plot twist. Could be the pre-planned downfall of an attorney, for example. Or a devious technique to force the loss of client-attorney privilege, which could be devastating to a legal case.

As a reader, think about this ethical boundary when watching shows & reading books. Did the writer/s put the boundary to good use?

Kathy said...

A day late but what an interesting post. I recently read a book where a woman hired a PI to find something or someone and I think they crossed the line late in the case but this was a civillain not another PI or anything. Still your blog makes me wonder the PI in the book stated he made a point not to date or sleep with his clients but he was attracted and so was she. Thanks for sharing the information.