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Private Investigators and Crossing State Lines

Private Investigators and Crossing State Lines: Facts and Laws You Should Know

While a lot of PI work is done online these days, many investigations still require travel. Some require a lot of travel. And for cases like possible kidnappings, tracking runaways, or locating a missing person that doesn’t want to be found, the search can take PIs to another state.

Crossing state lines immediately raises a lot of questions for private investigators. Are they allowed to pursue an investigation? Do they need to let the state know they’re there? Are the laws about PI work the same after they cross state lines? What about transporting evidence or weapons?

If you’ve got questions, we’ve got the important information you need. Let’s go over some basics about multi-state investigations and what all PIs should know when it’s time for a road trip.

State Licensing and Reciprocal Licensing

First, licensing is granted by the state. You probably already know this – each state has its own licensing requirements, which typically requires passing an exam, setting up a bond, and so on. That license only applies to the state that issued it, which means once you cross state lines, it’s no longer in effect.

Practically, that doesn’t have significance for basic tasks. You can still cross state lines to interview a person and then head back without worrying that your license will be forfeited, etc. But if you’re bringing back evidence, or carrying out surveillance in another state, then licensing starts to become important.

That’s where reciprocal licensing comes in. Basically, states have agreements with each that they’ll honor each other’s PI licensing. As long as the PI started the investigation in their home state where they are licensed, they are allowed to cross over to a state with a reciprocal agreement and follow up there. They just can’t set up a business there, and there may be time limits for how long the reciprocal licensing works, usually 30 days or so.

Reciprocal licensing can get a little complicated and does vary. It’s not always based on bordering states, either. California has a reciprocal agreement with Florida: New York doesn’t have one with New Jersey. So, it’s important to always check with your state’s licensing information and look up reciprocal licensing details. Those details will inform you of not only the time limit, but other requirements like written notification, and laws about new business (PIs can’t solicit new clients, etc.).

Of course, PIs can hold licenses in multiple states at once, but that’s usually only feasible if the PI regularly commutes across state lines and often has clients in two states.

What About Carrying Weapons?

Gun licensing also follows a similar pattern. States have reciprocal agreements with each other that allow license holders to carry certain firearms across a state border legally for a certain amount of time, as long as they follow the associated laws in each state. Reciprocal agreements vary between gun and PI licenses, so it’s a good idea to research the basics behind each.

Keep in Mind Laws About Recording Conversations

Many state laws are broadly similar to each other, and PIs don’t need to worry much about being confronted with an entirely different set of laws. For example, trespassing laws are pretty clear and don’t differ much from state to state. The expectation of privacy is a general rule that’s held up across states and limits how PIs can photograph or record people, especially in their own homes.

However, one legal issue that can differ significantly is the matter of consent to recordings. Some states don’t allow any kind of phone recording or wiretapping. Some only allow for phone recording if both sides are shown to consent to it (this is generally the most common approach). And some states are one-party states, which means only one party (like the PI on one end of the conversation) needs to consent to record a call. These laws apply depending on where the PI is when the recording is taking place. So, if they’re doing work and making calls in a state they aren’t familiar with, PIs should know the consent laws there if they want to record anything.

Final Notes

Many types of PI work can take investigators across state lines. If they are simply gathering evidence on a brief trip, there’s probably nothing to worry about. However, if they are planning on doing more extensive work in the state, they should be aware of local laws. PIs should at minimum look up reciprocal agreements for neighboring states and see if their licensing will apply to a new state and for how long. With an eye on details like this, private investigators can ensure they’re always following the law. This also avoids trouble with evidence being inadmissible or illegally obtained.

As always, if you have questions about a particularly important case, it’s a good idea to consult an attorney with experience in criminal law. They’ll be able to provide more information about how you can legally collect information when crossing state lines and bring it back for a successful case.

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