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California man charged with murdering 16-year-old girl

On Jan. 16, a military veteran from California was taken into custody for allegedly murdering a 16-year-old girl he met online. The killing took place in October 2019.

According to media reports, the girl's body was located in a Madera County field a week and a half after her family reported her missing. Investigators discovered that she had been communicating with the defendant, a 19-year-old former Marine, over social media in the days leading up to her death.

Miranda warnings protect defendants' rights

People in California may know that police are supposed to read them their rights in the case of an arrest, but they may not be aware of just how significant these Miranda rights can be. The standard warning was developed after a 1966 Supreme Court case that determined that people arrested by police must be informed of their rights against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment at the time they are taken into custody. While the warnings are well-known, partially because they are frequently featured on police TV shows, they provide a concise summary of constitutional protections afforded to those charged with a crime.

People arrested on criminal charges must be advised that they have the right to remain silent, that their words may be used against them in court, that they have the right to a lawyer and that an attorney will be appointed for those who cannot afford one. The words of the warnings matter because they serve as an official notification that arrested people do not need to speak to the police and can request a lawyer, no matter what other techniques the police may use in an attempt to extract a confession or other information.

How police gather evidence against you

If you are facing charges for a violent crime or serious drug offense, your rights are center stage. The process of investigating a crime involves many steps and the exchange of information and evidence through many hands. Even the most conscientious police detective or lab technician can overlook a detail, make a mistake or jump to a conclusion that places your future in jeopardy. 

Having a general understanding of the process and tools of a criminal investigation may help you see the many ways in which the evidence that prosecutors finally present in court can contain flaws. This may benefit you as you build your defense strategy with the guidance of your California attorney.

The rise of post-conviction DNA testing

Criminal defendants in California and around the country are often found guilty because of deoxyribonucleic acid analysis, but DNA can also be used to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. The accuracy of DNA testing became widely understood in the 1980s and 1990s when individuals who had spent decades behind bars began to be released. They were freed after tissue samples collected at crime scenes proved that other people committed the crimes they were incarcerated for. Newer techniques like cell-free fetal testing are even more reliable.

Incarcerated individuals who maintain their innocence can seek post-conviction DNA analysis if the technique was not available at the time of their trial or new and more accurate testing methods have been developed since. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that prisoners do not have a right to a post-conviction DNA test. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion that granting such a right would undermine state laws.

Drugs found on Lil Wayne's private jet

Lil Wayne was accused of being in possession of a gun and drugs after flying from California to Miami on his private jet. Federal agents who had gotten a search warrant entered the 37-year-old rapper's Gulfstream G-V plane after it touched down at Miami-Dade Opa Locka Executive Airport on Dec. 23. Miami-Dade police officers were also part of the search team.

Investigators allegedly found a .45 caliber handgun that was plated in gold and equipped with a pearl grip. A Coach bag said to belong to Lil Wayne was found to contain suspected pill and crystal-form MDMA, cocaine, heroin and marijuana. Lil Wayne's personal chef was allegedly found to have around $20,000 in cash with him. According to reports, the search of Lil Wayne's jet was carried out after police got a tip.

Ramped-up drug enforcement has unintended consequences

California is often in the forefront of new approaches in the ongoing societal effort to monitor certain chemical substances and punish their use, possession or other forms of control. For instance, as marijuana has progressed from a medically permissible substance to broad recreational use under state law, it continues to remain a Class One drug under federal law, the most restrictive classification. Federal offices rarely enforce those laws regarding marijuana, but how other drugs are classified and the fervor with which enforcement is prosecuted can result in unintended, and perhaps undesirable, consequences.

Legislative analysts point to the example of fentanyl-like substances that are currently classified as Class One drugs, but that designation will expire soon if legislative action does not occur. Proponents are pushing to renew the classification and pursue vigorous enforcement for all who are involved in the fentanyl market chain. Many who take a closer look at the bigger picture, however, are beginning to conclude that ramped-up enforcement primarily impacts the users and purchasers for personal use and are having little effect on the large dealers that the laws are theoretically targeting.

An outlandish tool police across the nation use regularly

California residents may be interested in learning about a tool that often used in police departments but is not so well known to the public. This tool is called Scientific Content Analysis. It is referred to as SCAN for short. While it is used in agencies across the nation, there is no reliable science to back it up.

The creators of SCAN have made the process of using it simple. The first thing an agent would do is give the suspect of a crime a pen and paper. Next, the individual accused of the crime would be asked to write down what happened at the time the crime occurred. Finally, the agent would use the training they received to analyze the information provided by the suspect. More than 400 agencies, everything from military agencies to small-town police stations, have received training using this tool.

Do I have the right to a trial by jury?

Following your arrest, you may have many questions about what happens next in the criminal process. Undoubtedly, police and prosecuting attorneys have explained to you the evidence they have against you, and they may even try to convince you to accept a plea deal. However, you may wish for an opportunity to dispute the evidence in court.

If you remember your history lessons, you know that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial and an impartial jury. You may be looking forward to your chance to face a jury, but you should first understand the limitations to that right and determine whether your case is eligible for a jury trial.

The racial divide in prisons is shrinking

The racial divide in state prisons in California and around the country narrowed considerably over the last 16 years, but African Americans are still far more likely to spend time behind bars than whites. A study from the Council on Criminal Justice released on Dec. 3 reveals that racial disparities for every type of major crime have fallen in state and local prisons across the country with the biggest demographic shift being observed among drug offenders. The racial gap is also lower among individuals on parole and probation according to the study.

Most experts concede that racial prejudice in the criminal justice system and harsh sentencing laws introduced to combat a wave of crime linked to crack cocaine led to the mass incarceration of African Americans in the 1980s and 1990s. By the year 2000, African Americans were 15 times more likely than whites to be sent to prison for violating drug laws.

THC vaporizing presents problems for law enforcement

Law enforcement agencies in California and around the country are struggling to contend with a flood of THC vaporizer cartridges that have been linked to deadly lung diseases. Drug users like vaporizing marijuana because it is discrete and avoids the distinctive aroma produced by smoking it, but many of the THC cartridges being sold on the street and in unlicensed dispensaries, which are often made in basements and backrooms, have been linked to serious health problems.

The popularity of THC vaping has led to a surge in law enforcement seizures. According to the Associated Press, more than 120 individuals have been arrested and at least 500,000 THC cartridges have been seized in the last 24 months. Many of these seizures are made in states where the recreational use of marijuana is legal. In October 2019, 7,200 marijuana cartridges were seized when police raided a Los Angeles warehouse. State officials have since revoked the license of the company that made the cartridges.

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