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Can A Felon Be A Private Investigator?

As an ex-felon looking for career opportunities, the possibility of working as a private investigator looks like a great alternative to boring, minimum-wage jobs. But how realistic is it for an individual with a criminal past to find work in this field? Can a felon be a private investigator?

In this guide, we’ll go over the requirements you’ll need to meet to become a private investigator.

Can A Felon Be A Private Investigator in 2024?

Can A Felon Be A Private Investigator

Having a felony makes becoming a private investigator more difficult, but it’s not impossible to work in this field when you’ve got a criminal record.

There are two ways to work as a private investigator.

  1. Work as an unlicensed private investigator for an agency where your work is supervised and approved by a licensed private investigator.
  1. Work as a licensed private investigator either for an agency or on a self-employed basis.

As a felon, you’ll encounter difficulties with both approaches.

If you want to work for an agency, you need to find an employer willing to hire you despite your felony conviction. Many agencies carry out background checks and these often involve a fingerprint-based records search.

And if you decide that obtaining your own license would be a better option, you’ll need to meet the education, training, and licensing requirements in the states you plan to operate in.

The difficulty here is that most states won’t issue a private investigator’s license to anyone with a felony conviction on their record.

Why Does A Private Investigator Need A License?

Private investigators have licensed professionals in the majority of states. Licensing demonstrates that investigators have received the necessary training to become competent investigators and shows they can be trusted with the information they discover.

Private investigators are hired to carry out sensitive work for private citizens, insurance companies, lawyers, and employers, and they often work alongside law enforcement as part of a team investigating cases where fraud is involved.

In their work, investigators need access to databases that aren’t accessible to members of the public, and they need to follow established protocols to ensure that the evidence they uncover is admissible in legal proceedings.

In the same way that patients expect their doctors to be competent professionals, clients expect private investigators to know what they’re doing and to be accountable if their work is substandard.

Which States Don’t Require A Private Investigator’s License?

Which States Don’t Require A Private Investigator's License?

A handful of states allow private investigators to operate without a license. This means that you can go into business for yourself without your felony holding you back.

However, even though the following states don’t make licensing mandatory, many private investigators still obtain a license and join professional associations, and that means you’ll be competing against licensed, accredited investigators as you try to attract clients. To join professional associations of private investigators, you also need to pass a background check.


Alabama doesn’t have a statewide licensing requirement for private investigators, but some cities require a license.

Birmingham and Mobile both require municipal licensing for private investigators. In Mobile, private investigators must also undergo a fingerprint background check.

In Montgomery, private investigators need to pass a state and federal background check.


While there’s no statewide licensing required for private investigators in Alaska, if you plan to operate in Fairbanks or Anchorage, you will need a license.

To obtain a private investigator’s license in Fairbanks, you need to pass a background check, and a felony on your record will make that impossible.

In Anchorage, you can obtain a private investigator’s license with a felony on your record as long as you’re able to meet the following criteria:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Hold a current business license
  • Provide a detailed work history
  • Pay the license fee
  • Submit a notarized application


There are no licensing requirements for private investigators throughout the state of Idaho.


There are no licensing requirements for private investigators throughout the state of Mississippi.

South Dakota

There are no licensing requirements for private investigators throughout the state of South Dakota.


There’s no statewide licensing for private investigators in Wyoming, but if you’re going to work in Cheyenne, you’ll need to obtain a special business license from the City of Cheyenne.

This business license is required for anyone wishing to work as an employee of a private investigation agency and the application form asks about criminal convictions.

Can A Felon Obtain A Private Investigators License?

Can A Felon Obtain A Private Investigators License?

In states that require a private investigator to obtain a license, the license application includes a background check. As a felon, you won’t be able to pass the background check unless you’ve been able to get your conviction expunged.

Expungement may be possible depending on the offenses eligible for expungement in your state.

In the following states, felony convictions cannot be expunged:

  • Arizona
  • Iowa
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Texas

Even in states where expungement is possible, some offenses are too serious to be wiped from the record. These include:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Sexual offenses with a child
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Arson
  • Terrorism
  • Capital Offenses

To look into the possibility of getting your conviction expunged, contact an attorney in your state who specializes in expungements. You can also look for associations that offer free help to low-income ex-offenders who need to request an expungement.

Expungement isn’t a quick process and can take up to 12 months, providing that all requirements for the expungement are met. These requirements usually include maintaining a clean record since the conviction; completing all sentencing requirements, including any parole or probation; and the payment of court fees and restitution.

Depending on the state, expungement may only hide a conviction from public view, and the conviction may still be visible to state licensing bodies.

See Also: Can A Felon Become A Nurse?

What Does A Private Investigator Do?

What Does A Private Investigator Do?

Private investigators carry out a wide range of activities to get their job done.


Surveillance includes the stereotypical vehicle-based surveillance but just as often involves covert foot pursuit and videoing or photographing the surveilled person in the street, at a grocery store, at a sports game, or at another public venue.

Searching For Witnesses & Carrying Out Interviews

Private investigators track down suspects and witnesses in criminal and civil cases, interview subjects and their family members as part of background investigations for some types of employment, and for worker’s comp and insurance claims. They also carry out interviews in domestic dispute cases.

Gathering Evidence

The type of evidence a private investigator may need to collect includes documents, photographs, video surveillance, and subject interviews.

Carrying Out Background Checks

If you’re working as a private investigator, you’ll be on the other side of the background checks for a change. You’ll investigate the background of the subject looking for criminal charges and convictions, civil judgments, financial defaults, and suspicious credit history.

How Much Does A Private Investigator Earn?

As an unlicensed private investigator, you’ll earn an hourly rate that will normally be comfortably above the state’s minimum wage. Licensed private investigators earn more, especially if they have completed criminal justice or police science degrees.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, private investigators earn $50,000 per year on average. But bear in mind that averages include people earning above that figure and below that figure.

As an example, a current job listing for an unlicensed entry-level private investigator offers an estimated first-year salary of $40,000 – $45,000 plus benefits for a 50-hour week.

What Qualifications Does A Private Investigator Need?

What Qualifications Does A Private Investigator Need?

If you’re interested in working as an unlicensed private investigator, which is the only option for a felon in most states, you can find entry-level positions that don’t require any qualifications beyond a high school diploma or GED.

Some of these positions are advertised on job sites, but many aren’t advertised at all and the best way to find an entry-level private investigator job is to get a list of agencies in your area and call them to see if they have any openings.

To improve your job prospects, you can take a course to get a certification in private investigation. Courses are offered at many college campuses and through online schools.

The courses cover:

  • Criminal and civil investigations
  • Report writing
  • Giving courtroom testimony
  • Investigative and interview techniques
  • Discovery and document review
  • Surveillence techniques
  • Internet research
  • Ethics

To be a good private investigator, you’ll also need some personal qualities. You should be resourceful and able to take the initiative. If you’re the type of person who needs constant supervision and direction, this career may not be the right choice for you.

You’ll also need good time management and organizational skills, as well as the ability to make decisions based on limited information.

Above all, you should be naturally inquisitive with good communication skills and have a strong sense of when people are being truthful or telling lies.

Final Thoughts

Can a felon be a private investigator? Yes. However, like any job that you apply for, you’ll need to pass a background check because of the nature of the work and the type of information you’ll have access to.

If you want to work for yourself as an investigator, you can only work legally without a license in a handful of states. In states that require a license, you’ll have to pass a background check and your felony will make that impossible.

Your offense may be eligible for expungement in your state, and that’s a course of action worth investigating, especially if you can find free legal help.

See Also: Can A Felon Become A Lawyer?