Monday, November 22, 2004

Timeline, what timeline???

Okay, we all procrastinate, but really, looking for an answer to a problem on the eve of trial? Ya, that's this business. Investigators, at least good ones, are adept at thinking on our feet and responding in a crisis. But just in case you DO want to plan ahead, and get the most data, here's a timeline guide.

// Investigators can get court records from any geographic locale in which they are available. Here's the hitch. The courts determine WHEN those files are available. Closed cases are often in a warehouse, sometimes only accessed once a week. Due to budget cuts, some courts are open fewer hours and days. 2 week lead time usually covers this variability.

// Vital Records offices can easily take 2 months to respond to a request. All the money in the world can't get them to expedite this. But the same records can usually be obtained from the county in which they were filed, on the day of the request.

// FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) responses languish in the dark hole of whatever agency from which records are requested. A signed release or a subpoena can move this along. Otherwise, a 6 month thumb-twirling wait is usual. State Sunshine laws usually require the agency to reply more quickly.

// Police records (incident reports and calls for service) are available, in California, and many states, without a release, if requested for a legitimate business reason. The CPRA (California Public Records Act) specifies that these must be produced within 10 business days, or an explanatory denial must be issued. Sounds straightforward, right? Huh! I usually have to flood the police department, the district attorney and the city attorney with paper during those 10 days, ensuring that they know I know the law and will stop at no excuse to get a public record. Allow 2 weeks, or more.

// Investigate, find more. One piece of evidence tends to lead to others: the divorce reveals a criminal record in another county, a prior marriage, an out of state bankruptcy; an interview reveals bad acts that conflict with the subject's sworn statements (Noooo!). Investigate as soon as you take a case, or before (if you have some doubts about the client; if you're wondering if the target is as bad as your client portrays; when you need an asset status) and you may actually provide a better return for your client, or at least better protection.



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