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Can a Felon Become a Private Investigator?

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Felons find it quite challenging to get a job after being released from prison. There are resources available even though felons may not believe anyone will hire them. Those who have hired felons have learned that they make good employees, but it might be in a different career from one felons had before their conviction.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can become a private investigator.

  • What is a Private Investigator?
  • What Education/Training Does a Private Investigator Need?
  • How Much Does a Private Investigator Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a Private Investigator?

A private investigator, also known as a detective, searches for information regarding legal, financial, and personal matters. He or she offers various services such as verifying a person’s background and statement, locating a missing person, and investigating crimes.

A private investigator typically does the following:

  • Interviews people to gather information
  • Searches online, public, and court records to discover essential information
  • Conducts surveillance
  • Collects evidence for clients
  • Checks for criminal history and civil judgments

A private investigator uses different means to research the facts of a case. Much of the work is done with a computer, allowing him or her to obtain information such as telephone numbers, details about social networks, descriptions of online activities, and records of a person’s prior arrests. He or she makes phone calls to verify facts and interview people when conducting a background investigation.

An investigator also conducts surveillance when investigating a case. He or she may watch a location, such as a person’s home or office, using a camera and binoculars, and collects information on a person of interest in a legal case.

An investigator must be careful regarding the law when conducting an investigation. A detective is required to have a good understanding of federal, state, and local laws, such as privacy laws and other legal issues affecting their work because they do not have police authority. A private investigator’s work is done with the same authority as a private citizen.

A skip tracer specializes in locating people whose location is unknown. A debt collector may employ him or her to locate people who have unpaid bills.

A private investigator must have a number of skills to be successful, including:

  • Communication skills to listen carefully and ask appropriate questions when interviewing a person of interest
  • Decision-making skills to be able to think in the moment and make quick decisions based on limited information
  • Research skills to find important information on the computer
  • Inquisitiveness to ask questions and search for the truth
  • Patience to spend long periods of time on surveillance while waiting for something to happen
  • Resourcefulness to work with limited leads and to anticipate what a person of interest will do
  • Skip tracing ability to locate a missing person
  • Time-management skills to determine the appropriate timing in finding a missing person
  • Organizational skills to manage collected information

What Education/Training Does a Private Investigator Need?

Most states require a private investigator to have a license. A candidate should verify the licensing laws related to private investigators with the state in which they want to work. A candidate may also obtain certification through a professional organization, although it is not required for employment. This would, however, demonstrate competence and may help a candidate advance their career.

Generally, the minimum requirements for state licensure include:

  • Being at least 21 years of age
  • Possessing a high school diploma or GED
  • Having U.S. citizenship or residency

For an investigator who specializes in negligence or criminal defense investigation, the National Association of Legal Investigators offers the Certified Legal Investigator certification. For other investigators, ASIS International offers the Professional Certified Investigator certification.

Only five states do not require a private investigator to be licensed at the state level:

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Mississippi
  • South Dakota
  • Wyoming

The remaining 45 states (plus the District of Columbia) do license private investigators and therefore have specific licensing requirements which include education and experience requirements as well as application procedures. A number of states allow private investigators to carry weapons, so mandatory firearms training and certification are also common.

However, because each state has their own legislation regarding the practice of private investigators and private investigation businesses, licensure requirements and the licensing process varies from state to state.

Education and experience licensing requirements also differ among states. Typical education requirements include an associate’s degree or higher in criminal justice or a related field while experience requirements vary based on certain factors, including the field in which the experience was obtained. Many states allow candidates to substitute education for experience to meet minimum guidelines for licensure.

How Much Does a Private Investigator Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics there were about 41,400 private investigators in 2016. The median annual wage for private detectives and investigators was $48,190 in May 2016. The amount an investigator earns depends on experience and skill level.

Employment of private investigators is projected to grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. Increased demand for private investigators will come from security concerns and the need to protect confidential information.

An Opportunity for Felons?

Most states have strict statutes prohibiting candidates with felony convictions or misdemeanor convictions involving crimes of moral turpitude from becoming a private investigator. A crime of moral turpitude is one that violates the ethical standards of a community.

The challenge will also be in getting a job as a private investigator. It is important to be honest in filling out an application for a job or when applying as a private investigator. If a felony isn’t disclosed but is found on a background check this constitutes fraud and is punishable by jail time. It is a crime to falsify an application, which could result in being sent back to prison.

In order to be successful as a private investigator, it is essential for felons to be honest about their background. They are already seen as being dishonest, untrustworthy, and unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures.

Having their record expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming an investigator. Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It is a major challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon wanting to become a private investigator. Giving him or herself the best chance for success by having his or her record expunged and also documenting any training programs or additional education could make a critical difference.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life and achieve a goal no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a private investigator with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

9 thoughts on “Can a Felon Become a Private Investigator?”

  1. Hello,
    I live in the State of Florida and I am a convicted felon for a heroin possession charge.
    It happened in 2014 and my dream is to be PI what can I do?

  2. I haven’t been in any trouble in 8 years in I’d like to become a private investigator in Georgia can you please help on on finding a way to accomplish this goal

  3. I would like to be a private investigator and I am a convicted felon but I haven’t had a felony charge since 2016 can I get help to be a private investigator contact me directly if you can help and are willing to help for free because I have no money but I live with my wife and 13 year old son in st.johns mi thank you 517-894-7849 my name is Rusty susdorf

  4. I’ve always wanted to help people even if it’s getting proof of a cheating spouse, drug abuse, crimes, insurance fraud. I have an aggravated assault charge from 2009 when I was 18 I’m now 28 I’m so ready to make something out of my life and being a PI is the dream job!

  5. I have always wanted to be in law enforcement but knew there was no chance in that because I’m a felon with a sex charge it dated back to 1988 I was a young man dumb as a box of rocks. I’m 55 years old now and have been in no trouble sense I just wanted to do something with the rest of my life beside being a truck driver. Please let me know if a license can be obtained for private investergater. Your reply will be greatly appreciated thank you

    • Well, what is the charge for? A simple crime? or one involving a minor? If involving a minor, there’s not chance.


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