Can a Felon Get a Private Investigator License?

The justice system operates in a wide range of capacities across American society. From local law enforcement, to federal investigations of criminal conspiracies, to cooperation between international agencies, the law extends to all facets of public and private life in the United States.

The legal system is intended to protect and serve the interests of the public. American citizens are guaranteed a set of civil and legal rights. In turn, law enforcement and courts have the authority to arrest, indict, prosecute, convict, and sentence those who violate the law. A conviction can follow a person around for the remainder of their life, and for felons in particular, this interferes with their ability to gain employment and reintegrate into society after release and rehabilitation in prison.

Private Investigation: A Unique Job Description

One line of employment felons may want to consider is in the field of private investigation. A private investigator, or private detective as some prefer to be called, may offer a suite of services to their clients. These services depend on their level of expertise, but can include:

  • Informational interviews
  • Background checks
  • Identity verification
  • Field work, undercover or official
  • Witness testimony in court cases
  • Evidence gathering for lawsuits

These services may be enlisted for legal, financial, personal, or business matters. Corporations may employ private investigators to perform background checks on potential hirees. Suspicious spouses will hire private investigators to gather evidence of infidelity in their marriage. The family of a victim in a violent crime might retain a private detective to supplement the investigative work of the police.

The work of a private detective is varied, and an array of skills will help an investigator have steady work and to earn a consistent income. Some combination of street smarts, quick analytical abilities, and good communication skills are important traits for starting work in the profession. After that, investigators might want to develop and improve their skills in:

  • Computer proficiency
  • Accounting and finance, both personal and corporate
  • Forensics, traditional and digital
  • Language proficiency
  • Data science

Job Prospects For Private Detectives

As in most professions, the more skills that a private investigator can gain and demonstrate, the more clients they will attract. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics cites the average wage of a private detective at $24.08 hourly, or roughly $50,000 per year. This wage affords a comfortable to well-off lifestyle in many parts of the country. It also represents an average, meaning that more established private investigators will be able to command higher pay for their services.

The BLS also estimates job growth at 8% in the field, which is higher than average. There is a consistent demand for work for those with the right skills, temperament, and a willingness to acquire new proficiencies in technology and investigative techniques. This, coupled with the potential for increased compensation as the investigator gains experience, makes it an attractive option for people who might struggle to find traditional employment in the job market.

How To Become A Private Investigator

There is a low barrier to entry for private detectives. Most states, however, require a license. The only states that do not require licenses, in fact, are Alaska, Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Wyoming. In the other 45 states, you must be licensed in order to work as a private investigator.

A number of universities offer courses that meet the minimum requirements for those hoping to work in the field, including nationally recognized schools such as Washington University and Boston University. Other options include junior colleges that offer associates degrees in criminal justice, law, or police science. Properly accredited for-profit schools are also options for those interested in the field.

Depending on the state, an investigator may then have to accrue investigative field hours. Acceptable work might be done for a police department, the military, a private investigation firm, or an insurance agency. All of this work must be verified.

Once the minimum requirement for hours has been met, all paperwork to apply for the license must be submitted, including information on whether the applicant intends to carry and use a firearm. This may be problematic for those with felonies on their records. The final step is to take and pass the licensing test, which will also vary from state to state.

Suitability of P.I. Work For Felons

Many former felons will find that they have skills suitable for work as a private detective. However, they may still find the licensing process to be an obstacle, as states will not issue a license to a convicted felon. There are ways around this however, provided that the individual has demonstrated good behavior after their release, and has a clean record.

Because it is so difficult for felons to obtain employment, several states allow felons to expunge their record of their conviction. This process involves petitioning to have the case reopened and taken before a judge. The judge can then overturn the prior conviction, which will clear the felon’s record and allow them to seek employment as any other citizen would be able. There may be a waiting period for expungement, either from the date of the crime, the date of the conviction, or the date of release from prison.

Clearing Your Criminal Record

Expungement laws are complicated, and vary from state to state. Not all states, including New York, will even allow for a criminal conviction to be expunged. In addition to expungement, several states also have a separate legal process in which the criminal record, or court case, is sealed. This prevents anyone outside of the court system from reviewing the criminal file.

Should the process of either expungement or record sealing prove either too costly, complicated, or difficult, due to a felon’s state of residence, it is possible to work as an unlicensed or unregistered private investigator. With the right set of skills, effective investigative work can still be conducted.

Working without a license will make the job more difficult. A private investigator firm is unlikely to hire an individual without a license, and it will be harder to attract clients without the reassurance that they are state-licensed. In some states, it is actually illegal to retain the services of a private investigator working without a license.

Private investigation is a growing field, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a high rate of growth over the next two years. The work can be challenging, exciting, and is often well-compensated. But as in any line of work, felons will have a more difficult time acquiring the necessary training and licensing to find employment. There are paths, however, for those with convictions to find work and establish a lasting and rewarding career in private investigation.

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