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Can Civilians Solve Criminal Cases?

Can Civilians Solve Criminal Cases?

Cold cases are most often criminal cases involving missing persons or victims of violent crimes for which there are no solutions or leads. While criminal investigations are the responsibility of law enforcement agencies, some cold cases are hopeless to the point that these agencies seek help from unconventional consultants: civilians. So, can a regular person solve a cold case? Keep reading to find out.

What Is a ‘Civilian’?

To understand how regular people can contribute to an investigation, it is important to define the different types of civilians. Many police forces have civilian employees that operate within a narrow scope to contribute to the criminal justice system. For example, some agencies employ civilian investigators to investigate various crimes. These individuals are not officers and have not been sworn in but must complete on-the-job training and must meet certain educational requirements.

On the other hand, civilians outside of the criminal justice system include those with no experience in a police force, law enforcement agency, or military division. This traditional definition of the term “civilian” usually includes people who work ‘normal’ jobs like teachers, mail carriers, etc. While civilian investigators have some degree of training, traditional civilians have none and may not have access to evidence or case files related to a crime.

Why Experts Consult Amateurs

Detectives and investigators from state and federal agencies have opened consulted with the public to gather information or even evidence related to certain crimes. While it is rare for these agencies to ask for help during a criminal investigation, there have been many instances when law enforcement agencies will ask the public to contribute important information regarding manhunts or details about missing persons.

However, when the trail goes cold, sometimes the best resource for more information is the general public. Civilians are encouraged to help solve traffic crimes and financial crimes as they are likely to experience or notice criminal activity first.

Search and Seizure

When it comes to searches by private citizens, there is no such thing as an "illegal" search. However, the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. This means that a private citizen cannot conduct a search without the knowledge, approval, or assistance of law enforcement. In some cases, a private citizen may even be considered a police agent if they are found to have acted with the intent to assist law enforcement in conducting a search. It is important for individuals to know their rights and understand when they can be searched without a warrant.

When Civilians Helped Solve Crimes

The rise of social media and online communities has changed the way we communicate and interact with one another. But did you know that these platforms have also helped solve some of the most challenging crimes in recent years?

In a 2018 article by Insider, several cases were highlighted where ordinary people online played a critical role in solving crimes. For instance, the article mentions a case where a woman used Reddit to help identify a piece of clothing that was found on a murdered girl, leading to the arrest of her killer. Another example features a true crime blogger who helped solve a 30-year-old cold case by researching and sharing information online. The case involved a double homicide that was solved following the blogger's investigation and collaboration with the police.

In many of these cases, members of online communities, such as Reddit or Facebook groups, provided valuable tips, clues, and evidence that helped law enforcement agencies solve complex cases. As such, these online communities have emerged as an unlikely but effective tool in the fight against crime.


There are many circumstances in which a civilian may contribute to criminal investigations, but it is crucial that individuals not attempt to defend themselves in a court of law or try to provide facts to protect themselves during an investigation.

If you have been accused of a crime, you must contact The Draskovich Law Group.


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