Thursday, November 17, 2016

Police Given Power to Make Traffic Stops Without Cause

In June 2016, the Supreme Court gave police more power to stop people on the streets and question them, even when it is not clear they have done anything wrong.  In a 5-3 ruling, the justices relaxed the exclusionary rule and upheld the use of drug evidence found on a man who was stopped illegally by a police officer in Salt Lake City.

In an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, he wrote because the man had an outstanding arrest warrant for a traffic violation, the illegal stop could be ignored. Since the warrant was valid, it predated police investigation, and it was entirely unconnected with the stop,”
The three female Supreme Court justices strongly opposed and warned that the ruling will encourage police to randomly stop and question people because they face no penalty for violating their constitutional rights against unreasonable searches. They agreed racial minorities in major cities will be most affected. “The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your 4th Amendment rights,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent. “Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification and check it for outstanding
traffic warrants , even if you are doing nothing wrong,” she wrote. “If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.” Allowing police to stop people to "fish for evidence" is a serious mistake that will give officers "reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner,” Sotomayor wrote. We are also at risk for treating our citizens as second class citizens. Allowing police to stop people to "fish for evidence" is a serious mistake that will give officers "reason to target pedestrians in an arbitrary manner,” Sotomayor wrote.

Sue Gent, President
Prodigy Investigative Group, Inc.
(772)634-6040  *  (954)866-3338

Monday, October 31, 2016

What a Judge Will Consider When Deciding Parental Responsibility

In a divorce it is always best for parents to put their differences  
aside and make decisions in the best interest of their children. 
The lack of healthy co-parenting puts children at risk mentally
and emotionally. They are far more likely not to reach their
fullest potential, have substance abuse issues and even
commit criminal acts. If parents are unable to reach a mutual agreement on parental responsibility, a judge can step in and make the decisions for you. Although both parents may think they are the better parent, a judge will not make this distinction. The exception to this is if one parent makes seriously poor life choices such as the use of drugs, alcohol, incarceration or domestic abuse. The court may still believe contact with both parents is in the best interest of the child regardless of these factors and may order supervised visitation.  Each parent will have an attorney to argue who is the better parent. A private investigator is often times hired to gather evidence against the other parent to prove they would be unfit to participate in co-parenting. A judge’s decision will be based on laws and his opinion of what is in the best interest of your children without considering the individual dynamics of the children.  If co-parenting decisions cannot be reached the court will likely consider the following factors when deciding on parental responsibility: 

  • Which parent is more likely to allow for frequent and continuing contact with the other parent.
  • Which parent has the ability to provide a more stable home environment.
  • Which parent has the ability to provide the essentials of food, clothing and medical care.
  • The moral fitness of the parents.
  • Job security of the parents.
  • The traveling requirements of the jobs of the parents.
  • The amount of time the child has been in a stable home environment.
  • The emotional bond between the child and each parent.
  • The proposed home of each parent after the divorce.
  • The child's history of home, school, and community.
  • The extent of the parents knowledge of the child's schedule, friends, medical, school, likes and dislikes.
  • The parenting tasks involving the child of each parent.
  • The amount of parenting task that would have to be performed by a third party with both parents.
  • The ability of each parent to provide a consistent schedule for the child.
  • Any illegal activity each parent may be involved including domestic abuse and child neglect.
Sue Gent, President
Prodigy Investigative Group, Inc.
(772)634-6040  *  (954)866-3338

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Post Tramatic Stress Syndrom (PTSD) And The Defense

Part 2: PTSD is not just a defense for the former serviceman/woman

Because symptoms of PTSD may not occur for months or years afterward and is not widely recognized as a disorder in the general population, PTSD frequently goes undisguised.  An individual who has experienced a traumatic event may appear to have “moved on” and even experienced degrees of success so a mental health professional understandably, may observe the current matter as depression, anxiety, disassociation disorders, etc. 

  • Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
  • Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
  • Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
  • Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
  • Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)
  • Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
  • Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
  • Loss of interest in activities and life in general
  • Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
  • Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career) Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger
  • Difficulty concentrating     
  • Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
  • Feeling jumpy and easily startled
  • Anger and irritability
  • Guilt, shame, or self-blame
  • Substance abuse
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Feeling alienated and alone
  • Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
  • Headaches, stomach problems, chest pain  
If you have are a civil attorney and your client has been involved in an accident, medical malpractice, etc. and you suspect there may be signs of PTSD as a result there may be additional factors to your case that can be addressed.
As a family law attorney representing a spouse with children and abuse (emotional, verbal, physical, sexual) infidelity, witnessing violent or addictive behavior, abandonment, legal troubles by a parent, etc.  an evaluation may be needed to determine if the child is dealing with issues beyond that of behavioral, depression, learning disabilities, violent or emotional outbursts.   If you suspect the opposing party has PTSD and is not being treated for the disorder, it could potentially prove to be harmful to a child.

PTSD issues are most frequently seen in criminal defense cases.  In California and some other states, PTSD defenses are being seen in cases where the defendant has been subjected to violence, even when they have not been a victim, such as being raised in the “ghetto.”  PTSD defense will be seen in the future where a defendant who was previously incarcerated and exposed to continual violence; committed the crime as a result of a flash back, etc.
PTSD cannot be diagnosed by your standard neuropsychological or psychological testing (i.e. WAIS).  PTSD should be diagnosed by a PTSD mental health professional using specialized      test to be considered an expert opinion. 

If you suspect your client is suffering from PTSD you can locate an expert through other mental health professionals, mental health clinics, psychiatric hospital, or counseling center.  You may be able to find a PTSD expert from the Sidran Traumatic Stress Institute at (410) 825-8888 ext. 203.

There are variables with PTSD that can be best examined by researching the numerous studies that have been conducted by mental health professionals and university.  You can begin to research the possible mitigating factors for your criminal, civil, or family law castes by researching the latest studies that apply to your case.  The following are only a few suggestions that may assist in beginning your research: National Institute of Mental Health: PTSD; Expert Evidence: Law, Practice and Procedure, 2nd Edition Sweet and Maxwell; .  American Journal of Psychiatry 2005 162:2295-2301; (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome)
Sue Gent
Private Investigator
Prodigy Investigative Group, Inc.
(772)634-6040  *  (954)866-3338

Saturday, October 8, 2016

How Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) can play a role in civil, criminal, and family law proceedings.

Part 1:  PTSD is not just a defense for the former serviceman/woman.

We most commonly associate PTSD with our military personnel who have experienced traumatic situations in combat.  Over the last few decades, PTSD has been associated with victims of violent crimes such as the battered wife and sexual assault.

PTSD is now being realized in individuals who have suffered from, witnessed, or have been involved in: emotional, physical, religious, verbal, sexual, or psychological abuse; first responders; law enforcement; natural disasters or other catastrophes as in 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina; motor vehicle, boating, or aircraft accidents; lived in stressful environments such as violent neighborhoods; committed a violent crime themselves and deal with guilt; situations where one may feel helpless (child sees a sibling being abused and cannot help); kidnapping; medical procedures (especially in children); and other serious events.

Experts in PTSD say any overwhelming life occurrence can elicit PTSD, particularly if the event is perceived as unpredictable and uncontrollable. It can even occur in the friends or family members of those who went through the actual trauma.

Stress and trauma are facts of life. The difference between the two is when trauma occurs; people perceive that their life or safety and/or others’ are being threatened. If an incident is simply stressful, the symptoms will diminish or disappear soon after the cause of stress is reduced.  If the symptoms persist long after the incident is over, then it is trauma.

The traumatic events that lead to PTSD are usually so overwhelming and frightening they would trouble anyone. The mind and body experience shock after a traumatic event.  As our minds process the emotions we move beyond it or we remain in a psychological shock, leading to PTSD.

Sue Gent
President, Private Investigator
Prodigy Investigative Group, Inc.
(772) 634-6040
(954) 866-3338

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Problem With Photo/Physical Line Ups and Composite Sketches

Three fourths of prisoners who have been proven innocent by DNA were wrongly convicted by eyewitness lineups.   Dr. Gary Wells, Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University has studied police lineups and the way memory affects eyewitness identification.  Dr. Wells has served as an expert to aid juries in understanding the various psychological and memory aspects of eyewitness identification.  His studies have proven that the standard ways of photo lineups, physical lineups, and composite sketching of an eyewitness’s identification are ineffective. 
In photo and physical lineups the eyewitness tends to compare one suspect to another instead of comparing each individual suspect to their memory.   Law enforcement agencies have begun to change the procedure of lineups where the eyewitness sees one suspect at a time. 

Examining composite sketches or computer-produced sketches rarely produce a likeness to the actual criminal.   A composite sketch involves an eyewitness to recall the perpetrator’s facial features.  Dr. Wells says this is a difficult task for someone because we don't perceive faces piecemeal and we don't store them in memory as individual features, such as nose, the eyes, or the mouth.

Facial composites of criminal suspects built by a single eyewitness account often produce poor likeliness of the actual perpetrator.  Where there is more than one eyewitness (as long as there are not too many), a better likeness to a suspect is created by morphing together the composites.

Dr. Wells has established certain procedures for law enforcement agencies to better preserve fair and trustworthy eyewitness identification.  Law Enforcement agencies are beginning to change their eyewitness identification procedures, but we have a long way to go.

Sue Gent
Private Investigator
Prodigy Investigative Group, Inc.
(772)634-6040 * (954)866-3338

Friday, September 23, 2016

Preparing A Witness For Trial


Great care and time is taken in preparing for a trial.  Sometimes overlooked is the preparation of a witness in taking the stand.  Most individuals have never been to court let alone been on a witness stand.  They may be prepared to answer your questions, stating the facts as they know them but they are not ready for the brutality that can sometimes come from the other side.  

A seemingly good witness may crumble or get confused and be discredited when being questioned from opposing council.  The greatest of preparation and legal know how can go up in smoke with the simple oversight of not preparing their witness. 

Besides having experience in court testifying and depositions, the Trial Prep Investigator has likely spent more time with the witness than the Attorney.  Sometimes awkward things to address with the witness, because the Attorney needs the witness to see them as the good guy are their appearance at court and the manner in which they address the court.  The Trial Prep Investigator can instruct the witness on their appearance, addressing the court when answering questions, explain the courtroom mannerisms of opposing council, and the presiding judge.  They can ask them potential questions they may receive from opposing council therefore preparing them for the negative side of cross examination.  The witness will be more confident and the Attorney is fully prepared for trial.

Sue Gent
Private Investigator
Prodigy Investigative Group, Inc.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Interview Techniques

Prodigy Investigative Group, Inc.
Prodigy Investigative Group, Inc.
Knowing what a potential witness is going to say prior to a deposition can be damage control in a case or allow the lawyer to apply their Client’s fund in a more central direction if the witness has nothing to offer the case.  Interview techniques vary widely.  An interview is a conversation with a purpose.  Conversation in a fact finding interview is 90% listening. 

The first steps to a successful interview include; preparation, case facts, people facts, timing, and location for interview.  Proper preparation is often ignored.  Knowing something about the interviewee will help in steering the introduction, establish rapport, reduce anxiety, flattery, and mirroring.  At Prodigy Investigative Group, Inc. we profile the interviewee and assign the Investigator most suited.  The economic status of the interviewee will determine what an Investigator will wear to the interview.  The interviewee’s personality, hobbies, background, family dynamics, and other factors aide in our selection of the interviewer.   If the individual is known to talk a lot, we plan our time accordingly and flatter the interviewee by taking plenty of notes.  

An Investigator should study the discovery and speak to the client as part of the preparation process.  At the onset of an interview, the Investigator must be visual in quickly observing and mentally noting the interviewee’s surroundings, appearance, and mood.  The Investigator must also be adept in studying body language and making mental notes.  Listening is crucial.  An individual may feel they know little or nothing about the subject they are being questioned on or may not want to get involved.  A good Investigator will listen closely to the interviewee and note the slightest information.  In a case where one does not want to get involved, an Investigator may want to initially set down their tablet and converse taking precise mental notes.  The interviewee may provide information on other witnesses unknown to the case. 

Cognitive Interview techniques increase the quantity of information you can get from the interviewee.  The Investigator should have the interviewee create a visual picture for them of the environment (including physical appearances, sounds, etc.).  This provides for further and more specific recall of details. 

Interviewees must feel confident they will have the time to speak, think, recall, and correct.  The Investigator should refrain from interrupting the interviewee.  This can hinder a train of thought and recall.  Revisiting a subject can be addressed at a more appropriate time in the interview.  An Investigator should recite back information to the interviewee requesting they correct anything they misunderstood, clarify information, then ask if there was anything they may have forgot to ask or if they have anything further to add.   Particular care should be taken when recalling information the interviewee may have provided reluctantly.  The Investigator should always leave an open door at the conclusion of an interview for questions at a later time. 

An Investigator must take special care not to jeopardize a witness’ credibility in court by leading the witness to make a statement that may not be accurate or by reading between the lines and reporting what they believe the witness was getting at. 

Investigators should know and understand the Attorney Client’s technique.  Observing a case the lawyer is presenting in court is one great way to learn this.  Invite your Investigator to observe you in action. 

Sue Gent
Prodigy Investigative Group