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The Constitution guarantees that a criminal defendant receives a fair trial. One of the most important foundations of our justice system is the right to a trial by a fair and impartial jury. The California Supreme Court ruled last week that two men, who have been sitting on death row for nearly 15 years, were denied their right to a fair trial, and the state high court reversed those convictions.

The two men were accused of being involved in a gang. Prosecutors accused one of the men of ordering the second man to murder two men who prosecutors had claimed were members of a rival gang. Gang-related charges in California can carry significant penalties upon conviction, and after a jury trial the two men were convicted of the murder charges and sentenced to death row.

During deliberations, one of the jurors reportedly had misgivings about the credibility of one of the prosecution's witnesses in the trial. It is an important function of the jury to weigh the credibility of witnesses in a criminal trial. However, two jurors apparently complained to the judge during deliberations about the juror who found the witness lacked credibility. The judge dismissed the juror, finding that the panelist acted improperly by allegedly considering evidence not presented during the trial.

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Allegations of gang crimes can bring serious consequences under state law. A recent case in Santa Cruz County highlights how thin the evidence of gang involvement can be to lead to a gang crimes charge. A Watsonville mother recently faced a charge of gang participation after a video was posted on YouTube. A schoolyard fight that reportedly occurred in September apparently was the focus of the video.

The fight reportedly involved the Watsonville Mother's child. The woman reportedly heard that her daughter was being jumped and she went to the Harkins Slough area to find her daughter. Apparently, she saw the fight and tried to scare off the girl who was fighting with her daughter. The mother shouted, and the shouts reportedly were captured on the YouTube video.

Law enforcement reportedly got wind that the video was posted on YouTube and after viewing it, the woman was charged with parental neglect and gang participation. The gang crime apparently was based upon the woman's language. Police claimed the language made references to an alleged Watsonville gang.

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Police say that an investigation into a string of alleged burglaries in Soledad led them to a location in south Monterey County. Officers from Soledad, Greenfield, King City and the Gonzales police departments converged to execute a search warrant Saturday at the location.

Law enforcement personnel seized a variety of items during the search, according to the Salinas Californian. Law enforcement claims they found roughly a pound of crystal methamphetamine, a small amount of cocaine and other prescription medications during the search. Police further claim the seized weapons, jewelry and stones police believe may be diamonds during the raid.

Police arrested two people after the search. A 25-year-old man police claim is a gang member and a 25-year-old woman police claim is a gang associate were taken into custody after the Saturday raid.

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The task force reportedly will focus on people law enforcement believes are gang members. A story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel does not explain how the task force arrives at the conclusion that a suspect is a gang member. Under California law, many offenses provide more severe sentences if prosecutors allege the offense was committed by an alleged gang member. Gang crimes in California can also lead to strikes under the California three strikes law.

The Santa Cruz task force reportedly plans initially to focus on alleged gang crimes in the South County. However, officials say the gang task force will also investigate alleged gang members in other areas of the county, including Santa Cruz, Live Oak and Soquel. Authorities claim they have identified as many as 19 gangs, each of which reportedly will receive task force scrutiny.

Officials have not disclosed the number of members will be included in the overall task force. Law enforcement says the gang task force reportedly will change in size, depending on the time of year and as the task force determines the need for additional officers.

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The original investigation centered on a 2004 shooting outside a Pico Rivera liquor store. A homicide officer reportedly was reviewing photographs of tattoos of suspected gang members when he saw a familiar depiction on the chest of the 25-year-old. The investigator says the tattoo depicted a scene similar to that involved in the 2004 liquor store shooting.

Police arrested the man on a minor charge in 2008. While the tattooed man was being held in jail on the minor charge, police say they used a jailhouse decoy to get a confession to murder from the young man.

While he was being held on the murder charge, law enforcement claims the man called his mother on two separate two occasions. The calls in the jail are monitored. Prosecutors say the phone calls include evidence of a drug conspiracy. Prosecutors claim that the man conspired with his mother and three other people to smuggle narcotics into the jail system.

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