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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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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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Over the long holiday weekend, many government offices across the country were closed down in observance of our nation's independence. At the same time, at least one courthouse drew national media attention as the murder trial of Casey Anthony wrapped up and the jury began deliberations.

Santa Cruz criminal defense attorneys know that the constitutional principles that guarantee a defendant the right to a fair trial include the right to a fair and impartial jury. To that end, the judge in the Anthony murder trial sequestered the jury early on. The trial concluded over the holiday weekend and the jury began its deliberations on the Fourth of July. Tuesday, after roughly 11 hours of deliberations the jury let the judge in the case know that a unanimous verdict was reached.

Casey Anthony was accused of murder in the June 16, 2008 death of her 2-year-old daughter. She faced a number of other serious charges in related to the 2008 incident. At trial, she chose not to testify in her own defense.

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18 years ago, a San Francisco man went to prison after a conviction for his alleged involvement in a drive-by shooting. Two people died in the Hunter's Point shooting. The San Francisco man stood trial and was convicted. For the San Francisco man, it was a long journey to justice. On Wednesday, the 40-year-old dressed in all white and donned a big smile as he strode out into the California sun.

Cheers erupted as the man tasted freedom. Family and supporters approached to give the man hugs. When asked what he would do with his new found freedom, he answered simply, "Take it one day at a time." The 40-year-old gained his freedom after a judge found that police suppressed evidence in the trial 18 years ago and paid a witness to lie on the stand. The judge threw out the two California murder convictions against the man.

The judge found that the lead homicide inspector was involved in suppressing the evidence in 1989 and was aware of the secret payoff made to a witness in the case. Frank Jordan was San Francisco Police Chief in 1989. He was surprised that police watched as paid witnesses provided perjury in the case. He says of the 18 years the man spent wrongfully serving a prison sentence, "there's no way that time can be replaced."

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