How to Choose a Private Investigator

Everyone would choose to use an experienced licensed private investigator if the need arose, but are you using one that is appropriately licensed? What most people do not realize, is that in the state of Utah there are three distinctions in investigator licensing. Apprentice, registrant, and agency. An apprentice is someone who has just begun learning the investigative business and must work under the direct supervision of an agency. They have less than 1000 hours and one year of investigative work. A registrant has finished their apprenticeship and must still complete another 1000 hours of work before they are qualified to go out and work on their own, solicit business for themselves and must still work for an agency. An agency has completed an apprenticeship and registrant licensing level or has met other state requirements for agency licensing; they may work directly for the public and businesses.

You may ask yourself, why not use an apprentice or registrant if I can get them to do the same work for less than what the agencies want to charge me? The answer is simple, it is illegal. Utah legislation states under Utah Code - Title 53 - Chapter 09 - 108 of the Private Investigator Regulation Act:

(2)(b) A licensed registrant shall only work as an employee of, or an independent contractor with, licensed agencies as provided in Subsection 53-9-102(18), and may not:

(i) advertise his services or conduct investigations for the general public; or

(ii) employ other private investigators or hire them as independent contractors.

(3) (b) An apprentice shall work under the direct supervision and guidance of a licensed agency, full-time for one year, or 1,000 hours, prior to eligibility for a registrant license. A licensed apprentice shall only work under the direction of a licensed agency as provided in Subsection 53-9-102(5), and may not:

(i) advertise his services or conduct investigations for the general public; or

(ii) employ other private investigators.

Bottom line, if an apprentice or registrant works directly for anyone other than a private agency, the federal government, or a state, county, or municipal government they are breaking the law. For an apprentice or registrant to work directly for an attorney unless they are an in house investigator on salary is a Class A misdemeanor. A paralegal can only do work that a private investigator does for the attorney that they are employed by. They must be a full time employee and not on a contract basis. This fits under the in-house exception in the Private Investigators Act of 1995.

Other issues to consider are:

  1. Someone who has not been fully trained may take unnecessary steps in the investigation that will cost you time and money.

  2. An untrained investigator may not know the basic rules and/or laws and end up causing you problems by doing something illegal during an investigation.

  3. An informed attorney could discredit an improperly licensed investigator on the stand by asking them what sort of license they hold, what agency they were working for, etc. If they were working independently and not properly licensed as an agency they themselves are breaking the law so their testimony would be greatly compromised.

The best way to hire an investigator if the need should arise is to follow a few simple guidelines
and good old common sense:

  1. Ask colleagues for referrals.

  2. Make sure that the investigator you use is properly licensed and insured.

  3. Ask them if they have worked on this type of case before and if so what were the results.

  4. Set out a budget for the investigation.

  5. Listen to your investigator, they may have ideas or suggestions you had not considered.

  6. Make sure you are comfortable and have good communication with whomever you choose.

A good private investigator can be one of your best resources in a case, use them.

Copyright © 2001 Robinette DesRochers, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Nov 8, 2014.