Monday, May 25, 2015

Differences Between Criminal and Civil Cases

The American legal system is comprised of two very different types of cases, civil and criminal. Crimes are generally offenses against the state, and are accordingly prosecuted by the state. Civil cases on the other hand, are typically disputes between individuals regarding the legal duties and responsibilities they owe one another.

Here are six key differences between a criminal case and a civil case:

1. Crimes are considered offenses against the state, or society as a whole, which means that even though one person might murder another person, murder itself is considered an offense to everyone in society. Accordingly, crimes against the state are prosecuted by the state, and the prosecutor (not the victim) files the case in court as a representative of the state. If it were a civil case, then the wronged party would file the case.

2. Criminal offenses and civil offenses are generally different in terms of their punishment. Criminal cases will have jail time as a potential punishment, whereas civil cases generally only result in monetary damages or orders to do or not do something. A criminal case may involve both jail time and monetary punishments in the form of fines.

3. The standard of proof is also very different in a criminal case versus a civil case. Crimes must generally be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt," whereas civil cases are proved by lower standards of proof such as "the preponderance of the evidence," which essentially means that it was more likely than not that something occurred in a certain way. The difference in standards exists because civil liability is considered less blameworthy and because the punishments are less severe.

4. Criminal cases almost always allow for a trial by jury. Civil cases do allow juries in some instances, but many civil cases will be decided by a judge.

5. A defendant in a criminal case is entitled to an attorney, and if he or she can't afford one, the state must provide an attorney. A defendant in a civil case is not given an attorney and must pay for one, or else defend him or herself.

6. The protections afforded to defendants under criminal law are considerable, such as with the protection against illegal searches and seizures under the 4th Amendment. Many of these well known protections are not available to a defendant in a civil case.

In general, because criminal cases have greater consequences the possibility of jail and even death criminal cases have many more protections in place and are harder to prove.

The Same Conduct Can Produce Civil and Criminal Liability

Although criminal and civil cases are treated very differently, many people often fail to recognize that the same conduct can result in both criminal and civil liability. One of the most famous examples of this is the O.J. Simpson trial. The same conduct led to a murder trial (criminal) and a wrongful death trial (civil.) In part, because of the different standards of proof, there was not enough evidence presented for a jury to decide that O.J. Simpson was guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt" in the criminal murder case. In the civil trial, however, the jury found enough evidence to conclude that O.J. Simpson wrongfully caused his wife's death by a "preponderance of the evidence."

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, WA

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Comprehensive Background Checks

A new nanny or babysitter, a potential tenant or renter, your child's coach, online dating, prospective business partner  in today's society, there are good reasons for wanting to verify the backgrounds of people engaged in your life. In some situations, not knowing someone's history can have dire legal, financial, and personal impacts. Instant, online background checks have become widely available and are fairly inexpensive, however, they are often quite limited in scope and not always up-to-date. Though admittedly more costly, a thorough investigation conducted by Brian Blackwell Investigations delivers more reliable, accurate and comprehensive results.

Components of our background investigation service includes:
  • Social Security Number (SSN) Trace revealing all current and reported addresses for the last 7-10 years as well as any aliases utilized by a subject
  • Statewide Criminal and Civil Records Checks  conducted according to subject's address history
  • County Level Criminal and Civil Records Checks often times requires hands-searching documents in the actual courthouse of record
  • DMV Records  can reveal more than driving history as they can document an individual's history of substance abuse and/or criminal activity
  • Property Records lists all real property parcels owned by an individual or business, as recorded by county tax assessors statewide
  • Bankruptcy and Lien Records
  • Political Contributions
  • U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Filings
  • Customized and advanced background services are also available

Background checks provide agencies and individuals with extremely important information. However, it is very important to be aware of their inherent limitations. Be aware that there is no such thing as a national criminal records check. There is one "nationwide" criminal database, the FBI database, also known as NCIC (National Crime Information Center) database. The FBI database is not public record and cannot be legally accessed by anyone other than criminal justice agencies. This is one of the reasons why we physically hand-search documents in the actual courthouse of record.

Having handled a wide range of research assignments, Brian Blackwell Investigations stands behind its ability to deliver meticulously thorough background checks in addition to diligently investigating any of your personal matters. We are sensitive to the private nature of these types of investigations and work with our clients to acquire information as quickly, quietly and efficiently as possible. We provide the information you need to protect your financial stability, safety, and most importantly, your family.

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, WA

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Gunshot Residue (GSR) and Testing

What is GSR and the collection process?

GSR, an acronym for Gunshot Residue, is deposited — or not — on the hands and clothes, or any other objects, of someone or something in the vicinity of a discharged firearm. Special sealed containers with tabs bearing an adhesive substance are used to collect microscopic particles — hands and face, as well as other areas of concern (i.e. clothing); there is one tab that remains sealed and unused as a control for the laboratory.

What is tested for?

The components are lead, antimony and barium. These are in the primer of the cartridge, and not the gunpowder of the cartridge itself. The discharge creates a specific burned component of these three chemicals that is unique to cartridge primers — although similar to fireworks, not the same microscopically. The hope of GSR testing is that the GSR will tell who discharged the firearm and who was the victim. The answer being sought is simply positive or negative for GSR — who is the shooter and who is the victim?

Common Scenarios

The two scenarios that are most often asked about are:

1. Post Incident

Positive results can be circumstantial and will only indicate the individual may have discharged a firearm, may have been in the vicinity of a firearm that was discharged, or may have come in contact with an item with gunshot residue on it. Similarly, negative findings will not preclude the above and that one or more of the persons discharged a firearm.

2. Post Exhumation

Upon completion of the autopsy the body is cleaned for transport to the funeral home. At the funeral home the body is cleansed thoroughly and prepped as directed for burial. If there is an open casket or private viewing, the body is often prepared with makeup in those areas that would be exposed. This prevents any reliable GSR testing.

The Best Course of Action

It is best to review all the available records, reports and photographs to determine, as best possible, the most accurate conclusions based upon the direct and circumstantial evidence. GSR, like all evidence, is direct evidence that is subordinate and subjective to related circumstantial evidence. You must ask the who, what, when, where, why and how of all evidence and how they interrelate.

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, WA

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Fake Debt & Collection Call Harassment

Every year, thousands of retirement-age Americans are contacted by debt collectors for debts that are not theirs. The elderly often fall victim to financial fraud and nearly half of the 8,700 complaints about debt collections that older people filed over a 15-month period to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) Office of Older Americans report unrelenting attempts to collect money that they do not owe. Overall, debt collectors accounted for 110,000 complaints to the CFPB from July 2013 through December 2014. The Federal Trade Commission say they receive more complaints about collectors than any other industry.

Although it is commonly threatened by unscrupulous collectors, garnishment of social security and veterans' benefits cannot be done legally for private debts only for delinquent state or federal debts such as unpaid student loans, taxes and government-backed mortgages. Unpaid alimony or child support can also be deducted from social security benefits, but supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits cannot be garnished due to any debt.

Another common complaint: repeated attempts to collect on debts allegedly owed by deceased family members.

The biggest mistake is to react under pressure. Step back and verify that the debt is yours before you pay. Many people don't and end up paying for debt that is not theirs. And some pay duly owed expired debt because they are unaware of the status of limitation generally two to 10 years, depending on your state, after which collectors cannot legally sue consumers for unpaid debt.

What You Can Do

Try these tips to avoid paying debt that is not yours

Request details about the debt and the collector's license number, company name, address and phone number. If the collector refuses to provide this information, assume it is a scam. Visit for signs of bogus collectors.

Check your credit report annually. When reviewing your credit report, look for unrecognized debts and inquiries by collectors or creditors. By law, you are entitled to a free credit report annually from the three major credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, Transunion. Visit to receive your free credit report.

Write letters. Visit for sample letters to help you get more information about the alleged debt, dispute it and stop contact with collectors. Always send letters certified mail with "return receipt" to collectors, creditors, and credit reporting agencies when disputing what is on your credit report. Send copies of the letters to the CFPB, the FTC, and your state attorney general.

For alleged credit card debt, insist on written proof that you owe it such as statements detailing the unpaid charge. For medical debt, get a statement or invoice outlining services, dates and names of doctors, and cross-check information with insurers, Medicare and providers for payment or reimbursement status; collectors may call before payments are processed.

Know your rights. Get details of your rights at

Friday, May 15, 2015

Requesting Military Records

How do I request military records?  What is the turnaround time and
what is available?

DD214, the official document issued to the servicemember at the time of discharge which shows branch of service, type of discharge, awards and decorations, is considered confidential and available only to the veteran. However, the near equivalent information is available from the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF.) There is no charge and it normally takes 12 weeks to receive the information.

Contact Information

National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, MO 63138

Phone: (314) 801-0800
FAX:    (314) 801-9195

Veterans and spouses of deceased veterans can request these records online at . Requests cannot be emailed, only faxed or mailed. The form required to request military records is SF-180. Veterans or next-of-kin can order directly online at

Once you have sent your request, you can check the status by going to  or by phone
at  (314) 801-0800.  The best time to call is between 8 am and 10 am  central time.

The public can access certain military service information without the veteran's authorization or that of the next-of-kin (the un-married widow or widower, son, daughter, father, mother, brother, sister) of a deceased veteran.

Examples of information which may be available from Federal (non-archival) Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) without an unwarranted invasion of privacy include:

  • Name
  • Service Number
  • Dates of Service
  • Branch of Service
  • Final Duty Status
  • Final Rank
  • Military Education Level
  • Awards and Decorations (eligibility only, not actual medals)
  • Photograph
  • Assignments and Geographical Locations
  • Transcript of Courts-Martial Trials
  • Place of entry into the military and location where separated

If the veteran is deceased:
  • Place of Birth
  • Date and Geographical Location of Death
  • Place of Burial

FOIA and Official Personnel Folders (OPF)

Most information in a Federal (non-archival) Official Personnel Folder (OPF) is not releasable to the general public without the written consent of the individual whose record is involved. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does allow, however, for certain information to be released without the individual's consent.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has determined that the following information can be released to the public:

  • Name
  • Positions
  • Titles
  • Salaries
  • Rank
  • Job Locations

Brian Blackwell Investigations | Seattle, WA

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Seattle Litigation Investigation and Process Serving Assistance

Start your court case the right way with litigation investigation and process serving services from our team in Seattle, Washington. Brian Blackwell Investigations is prepared to assist.

Litigation Support Investigations

Our team performs all criminal and civil trial preparation investigations, including worker’s compensation claims, criminal liability, civil liability, and domestic case services. These investigations include:

• Witness Location & Interviewing
• Video & Photography Services
• Surveillance
• Evidence Analysis
• Legal Liability
• Process Serving

Process Serving

We provide fast, accurate process serving services. Our staff is capable of serving documents at a substantially lower fee than our competitors. Our many years of experience help us find those hard to locate individuals, allowing you to focus on your real work. We welcome special requests.
Gavel - Litigation Investigation
Contact us in Seattle, Washington, for more details about our wide range of investigation services.