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In January the California Supreme Court ruled that a police search of a cell phone after an arrest is constitutionally sound. This blog carried a story on the ruling on January 21. The January ruling involved an appeal of a case where Ventura County law enforcement searched a man's cell phone for text messages after the man was arrested on suspicion of committing a California drug crime.

The January ruling may not be the end of the story. Monday the California Assembly unanimously approved a measure aimed at requiring law enforcement to seek a valid warrant before they can lawfully search the contents of a cell phone. However, the Assembly measure differs from a bill that passed in the Senate last month. The Assembly measure waters down the warrant requirement by allowing law enforcement to conduct a warrantless search if they believe an exception applies.

The exceptions that would allow police to conduct a warrantless search under the Assembly bill would involve situations where police believe the search is necessary to prevent injuries, to stop the destruction of evidence or to prevent a crime from occurring.

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The United States Supreme Court has not taken a hard look at the reliability of eyewitness testimony since 1977. The Court has agreed to revisit the issue in November. Since the time the issue was before the Court, more than 2,000 studies have been published in professional journals regarding the reliability, or lack of reliability, concerning eyewitness identifications. The nation's highest court previously ruled that judges can exclude some eyewitness identifications if the testimony is unreliable.

The difficulty with the current state of the law on the subject is highlighted by the number of wrongful convictions that have been obtained based upon mistaken identity. Criminal defense attorneys in California and across the country have regularly argued and researchers have compiled a long list of studies indicating that of the roughly 75,000 eyewitness identifications used in the country each year, about one-third are simply wrong.

Research shows that eyewitness identifications can lead to wrongful convictions. Many wrongfully convicted defendants have been exonerated by DNA analysis across the country. Of the first 250 exonerations, researchers say 190 cases involved the mistaken testimony of an eyewitness. Witnesses on those cases reportedly were certain they had identified the right person. One was "120 percent sure," reports the New York Times. Another witness had absolutely no question the wrongfully convicted defendant was involved.

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The California Highway Patrol says they are requesting felony DUI charges to be filed in relation to the accident. Authorities say a 19-year-old Carmel Valley resident was killed in the roll-over accident and a second passenger was severely injured. Neither passenger was wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, according to the CHP. A third passenger, who was wearing a seat belt reportedly, suffered minor injuries in the incident, according to the CHP.

Law enforcement says the man accused of driving at the time of the accident crawled up the embankment after the crash to get a signal on his cellphone. The accused man reportedly called in a report of the accident after the crash.

California DUI laws allow prosecutors to seek felony level charges in cases where authorities allege a drunk driving accident caused an injury. A person need not have any prior driving offenses on their record to potentially face a felony DUI if an injury producing accident is involved.

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The issues were recently before the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco in regard to a man charged with failure to provide a DNA sample after an arrest on suspicion of arson in 2009. In January 2009, California law began requiring any person arrested for any felony to submit a DNA sample. The law requires the sample to be provided "immediately following arrest, or during the booking . . . process or as soon as administratively practicable after arrest."

The appellate court struck down the law as unconstitutional. The court says a person arrested for a felony, but has not appeared before a judge for "a judicial determination of probable cause" is more like an ordinary citizen than a prisoner.

Ordinary citizens, cloaked in the presumption of innocence, have the full expectation of privacy, free from unreasonable governmental intrusions. The court says convicted prisoners have a "limited expectation of privacy" under the Fourth Amendment.

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Governor Jerry Brown has signed a new measure into law making it harder for the state to convict a person accused of a crime based upon the testimony of jailhouse informants. Criminal defense attorneys, civil rights advocates and at least two district attorneys in the state supported the measure. Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar vetoed the same proposal twice during his administration at the urging of the California District Attorneys Association.

Our criminal justice system has a variety of important safeguards built in to protect a person accused of a crime from being wrongfully convicted. Every person has the right to a fair trial. Our system places the burden on the prosecutor to prove allegations beyond a reasonable doubt in order to get a conviction. But individuals accused of a crime also have the right to a complete defense.

Among the safeguards the law affords Californians accused of a crime is the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses at trial. But what if a trial witness is unreliable? In 2004, the California Senate created a statewide commission to look into the causes of wrongful convictions in the state.

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