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The Department of Motor Vehicles will reopen all of its field offices on Thursday, easing the angst of thousands of drivers with expired licenses who have been unable to schedule appointments because of overloaded phone lines or closed offices.

All 169 field offices, opening for the first time since they were shut down at the end of March to prevent the spread of COVID-19, will be able to assist those with current appointments at a specific office and limited transactions that require an in-person visit.

“Fantastic,” said Cathy Meadows of San Jose, whose license expired May 8. “I still need to drive, at least, to and from the grocery store.”

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Santa Cruz criminal defense attorney public defenderIn California, when you are charged with a crime, you are entitled to have an attorney represent you in court. This can be a retained (hired) attorney, one whom you pay to go to court (and DMV) for you and help you wind your way through an often confusing situation. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, you are not at all out of luck. The system provides criminal defense attorneys to help folks who cannot afford to hire private counsel, known as public defenders. Here in Santa Cruz, the public defenders are outstanding advocates for their clients. One often hears negative comments about public defenders in general - “just a government attorney,” “public pretender,” and “just another part of the system.” I can’t speak to areas where I don’t practice, but I can speak to the system in Santa Cruz, as I’ve been involved in it for over 30 years. The public defenders here are dedicated, intelligent, hard-working attorneys who zealously represent their clients. In short: they are outstanding attorneys. 

To see if you qualify for a public defender, you can go to court on your arraignment date and wait until the judge calls your case. You can request the judge appoint a public defender. Typically, a judge will either ask you to fill out a financial form, or he or she could simply question you about your financial situation. The judge then makes a determination as to whether you could afford to retain a private attorney. If the judge thinks you can afford to do so, he or she will give you time to hire an attorney. If the judge believes you cannot afford to hire a private attorney, a public defender will be appointed right then and there. There are public defenders staffing all of the criminal courtroom departments in Santa Cruz. If the judge appoints a public defender to represent you here in Santa Cruz, you are quite likely getting not just good, but extremely good representation.

One note for DUI offenders: your court date is usually 30 or more days after arrest, and the way our system is currently set up, you cannot apply for a public defender until you get to court. Meanwhile, there is usually a separate administrative action (separate from the court case) at DMV that started upon your arrest. If you don’t call DMV within 10 days of your arrest to set up an administrative hearing, DMV will automatically suspend your license. If you want to challenge the suspension of your license by DMV, you will need to make that call yourself (or have a lawyer do so) within those 10 days. The correct DMV number for a Santa Cruz DUI case is ironically a San Jose number: 408-229-7100. The hearing the DMV sets up is separate from the court date, and will likely be after the court date.

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Posted on in DUI

Santa Cruz DUI attorney license suspensionDrinking and driving is against the law, and an arrest for driving under the influence (DUI) can have a wide variety of negative consequences. In fact, even a first-time DUI can have far-reaching effects that may follow you for the rest of your life. If you are facing DUI charges, you will want to work with an experienced attorney to determine your best options for defense. 

Effects of a DUI Charge

Following a DUI arrest, you may not fully understand your rights, and you may be unsure about what will happen during your case. A DUI charge can affect your life and your reputation in a variety of ways, including:

  • Driver’s license suspension: Upon a DUI arrest, your license will typically be confiscated by law enforcement. Even if you are not formally charged or convicted of DUI, the Department of Motor Vehicles will issue an automatic driver’s license suspension. To contest this suspension, you must request an administrative hearing within 10 days after you receive notice of your license suspension. 
  • Use of an ignition interlock device: For a first-time DUI offense, your driver’s license can be suspended for six months. However, you may be able to regain your driving privileges by having an ignition interlock device (IID) installed in your vehicle. An IID is an in-vehicle breathalyzer that will only allow the car to start if the driver is sober. Repeat DUI offenders and those who cause injury to others when committing DUI may be required to use an IID for one to four years. 
  • A criminal record: Even after completing a sentence for a DUI conviction, including serving jail time or probation, paying fines, or completing other requirements, your DUI charge will remain on your criminal record. Information about your arrest will show up in any background checks, allowing others to learn details about the alleged offense.
  • Mug shot: When you are booked following an arrest, your “mug shot” will be taken. This picture could end up on one of the websites that post such information, so that a mere computer search of your name will return your mug shot.
  • Employment: Because a DUI will show up on background checks, prospective employers may choose not to hire you, even if you only had a single offense that occurred several years in the past. The loss of your driver's license following a DUI arrest could affect your ability to work in a career that involves driving. A DUI conviction may also result in the suspension or revocation of a professional license. 
  • Child custody: DUI arrests or convictions may play a role in decisions about child custody made in family courts. If you are getting divorced, a recent DUI may cause a judge to question your fitness as a parent, which could result in the loss of custody or restrictions on the time you spend with your children.
  • International Travel: During a period of probation after a DUI charge, you may require special permission to travel. In addition, some countries prohibit entry by those with a DUI conviction. In Canada, for example, a person is restricted from entering the country for at least five years after a DUI conviction.

Contact a Santa Cruz DUI Lawyer

Being arrested for driving under the influence can be a frightening experience, and it can have a huge impact on your life going forward. To ensure that your rights are protected, you should contact an attorney immediately following your arrest. At the law office of John W. Thornton, we will work to help you minimize the potential consequences you may face, and we will do everything we can to preserve your reputation. Contact our experienced Santa Cruz, CA DUI defense attorney at 831-426-5800 to schedule a free consultation. 

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Santa Cruz, CA DUI attorney for license suspensionOne of the more common questions folks who are curious about DUIs ask is whether to take a breath or blood test, or whether to refuse testing. The answer is different for different situations, but one answer is easy: do not refuse the “chemical test” of breath or blood unless you do not care about having a driver’s license.

California law states that a driver has agreed to both agree to and submit to a “chemical test” after an arrest for DUI. The phrase “chemical test” can be misleading - it simply refers to a blood or breath test following arrest. They will not be putting chemicals in you, and at least here in Santa Cruz, the blood test is typically done at a hospital. There is a pre-arrest breath test called a PAS (preliminary alcohol screening test) that you can, by law, refuse - and the officer is bound to tell you that. After arrest, though - even an arrest that seems unlawful, off base, or just plain wrong - a refusal to take the “chemical test” will likely lead to a driver’s license suspension of at least one year. That is zero driving and zero sympathy, with your license gone for a year, no matter your need to drive.

Moreover, what the DMV can deem a refusal to take a chemical test is often ludicrous. Silence can be seen as a refusal, even with no physical resistance. If you politely state “Please just note that I object” – the DMV will call that a refusal. Saying “I will take a test if you get a warrant” is refusal as far as the DMV is concerned.

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Santa Cruz criminal law attorney arrest rights

Getting arrested is stressful for anyone. An arrest may come unexpectedly, and you may be unsure about how to act. Regardless of the alleged offense for which you are being arrested, you continue to have rights after being detained. By understanding these rights, you can keep yourself safe and ensure that you are able to defend against any criminal charges resulting from the arrest. 

Your Rights During an Arrest

When being arrested, you have the right to remain silent. You can exercise this right at any time, but there are only specific circumstances where a police officer is required to state this right. Miranda rights are only given when a person is in custody and will be interrogated. If these rights are not read during an arrest, they should be read before the interrogation. The Miranda admonition states that you have the right to remain silent, that anything you say can be used against you, that you have the right to an attorney, and that you have the right to a court-appointed attorney if you cannot afford to hire an attorney. If you intend to stay silent until a lawyer is present, you can (and should) make that verbally clear to the arresting officer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the state must provide one for you. Here in Santa Cruz, we have excellent state appointed attorneys, also known as public defenders. 

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Santa Cruz DUI defense attorney

No matter if you are a first time or repeat offender, getting charged with a DUI will have a huge impact on your life. How much it will affect you depends on the circumstances surrounding your arrest, such as who was in the car, any prior convictions, and whether any others were injured or killed as a result of driving while intoxicated. Even in cases without circumstances that would increase the charges, a DUI can lead to a license suspension, jail time (often, though not always, served in an “alternative to custody” program), and fines. 

When an officer pulls you over, they may have a suspicion that you were driving while intoxicated. However, even if you are pulled over for another traffic offense, such as speeding, you can still be arrested for DUI if the officer has probable cause to make an arrest that you are under the influence. An officer may determine probable cause by talking with you, observing you, conducting field sobriety tests, and/or administering a portable breath test. 

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Santa Cruz, CA DUI attorney child endangerment

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal and can result in serious consequences. However, having a passenger in the car under the age of 14 will increase the severity of the punishment. The laws of the state of California are meant to keep everyone safe, and violating these laws by committing DUI with a child in the car can be considered child endangerment.

California Laws and Child Endangerment

According to California Vehicle Code 25372, a person who drives while under the influence of alcohol or drugs with a child under 14 years old in the car is subject to increased punishment. While a first-time DUI is usually considered a misdemeanor, this is considered a very serious misdemeanor – not only in court, but with Child Protective Services. Child Protective Services may be called to the scene of arrest, and they have the ability to take your child/children into their protective custody as you go off into police custody. There is follow up with CPS to make sure the children are in an acceptable home, and they will likely notify you that they are seeking to place you on a list of child abusers (Child Abuse Central Index). They will also inform you of your right to fight that designation.

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Santa Cruz criminal defense lawyer

Although medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, it has only recently become legal for recreational use. In 2016, California legalized the adult use of marijuana, joining several other states, including Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. This was done through Proposition 64, the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act. However, while marijuana has been legalized, it is important for California residents to understand what is and is not legal, as well as the potential consequences that may come with being charged with DUI while under the influence of marijuana.

Marijuana Laws in California

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Posted on in DUI

Santa Cruz DUI defense attorney traffic stop arrestUnless it occurs at a sobriety checkpoint, a DUI traffic stop is often an unexpected incident for a driver. Getting pulled over can cause anxiety for anyone, but being pulled over for driving under the influence can lead to criminal charges, steep fines, and the loss of driving privileges. For many drivers, an arrest for driving under the influence is the first time they are in trouble with the law, aside from minor traffic tickets or parking violations. When you are pulled on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, is important to be prepared for what will happen. 

The Process Followed in a Traffic Stop

When a police officer pulls a driver over, they must have reasonable cause to do so. This means that there must be a reasonable suspicion that a law is being broken. Reasonable causes for pulling over a driver include erratic driving or other traffic violations, such as speeding or running a red light. A traffic stop for a minor violation, such as a missing tail light, could lead to a DUI arrest if the officer suspects the driver is impaired due to drugs or alcohol. 

When asking for a driver’s license and registration, an officer will also take note of their speech and actions. If the officer suspects impairment, they may ask the driver if he or she has been drinking. While cooperation with police is often recommended, these questions are voluntary, and the driver has the right to decline to answer any questions. 

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Santa Cruz, CA drug DUI defense lawyerDriving under the influence of drugs can get a driver in as much trouble as driving under the influence of alcohol. In California, criminal charges related to the possession or sale of drugs can vary wildly, but when a person gets behind the wheel, they are likely to face serious consequences if they are intoxicated by any substance. Unlike alcohol, there is no legal limit for the amount of drugs a person can have in their system while driving, and if a drug test shows any amount of a controlled substance in a driver’s system, they may face DUI charges.  

The criminal charge of Driving Under the Influence refers to how a substance can affect a driver’s judgment and reaction time. The legal limit for a driver’s Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is .08%. For any BAC over that limit, a driver is presumed incapable of driving safely. While California law does not specify a legal limit for other drugs, including marijuana, a driver may be considered to be under the influence if they are intoxicated and unable to operate their vehicle safely. Controlled substances, prescription drugs, and even over the counter drugs can lead to a driver being considered intoxicated and charged with DUI, especially if these substances are combined with alcohol.

As with driving under the influence of alcohol, a first time offense for driving under the influence of drugs is a misdemeanor. A DUI conviction can lead to up to six months of jail time, fines well over $1,000, and driver’s license suspension for at least six months. This criminal offense will be on your record, which can be detrimental if your career requires driving in any way. 

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Santa Cruz first time DUI defense lawyerAnyone can be pulled over while driving, and if you are DUI of drugs or alcohol, a routine traffic stop can lead to an arrest. A DUI arrest can be a scary experience, and you may not know what to expect. However, understanding what will happen if you are pulled over and arrested for a first-time DUI will make the experience easier to handle. 

Even if you feel under control behind the wheel, if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is higher than .08% this is considered drunk driving, and you can be arrested on DUI charges. In many cases, a driver will be pulled over for a different reason, such as having a tail light out or speeding. If the police officer who pulls you over has reasonable cause to believe you are under the influence, they can ask you to take Field Sobriety Tests. These tests consist of being asked to get out of your car and performing tasks meant to assess your cognitive functions and ability to operate your vehicle safely, such as reciting the alphabet or walking in a straight line (whether these tests accurately assess alcohol influence is another subject altogether). You may also be asked to take a Preliminary Alcohol Screening, which is also known as a breathalyzer test. This test will measure your BAC, and it often determines whether an arrest can be made.  

If you fail (or as the report may state “did not complete as explained and demonstrated”) or refuse these tests, the police officer will likely arrest you for DUI, and you will be transported to jail or a sobering center and formally charged. You will be asked to take a chemical BAC test of your breath or blood. If you refuse the post-arrest “chemical test” of your blood or breath, or fail to complete it, this can lead to a lengthy suspension of your license – even if you are under the limit. The officer will likely take your driver’s license and issue you a pink temporary license, which kicks off an administrative process at DMV that is separate from the court process.  If you do not request an administrative hearing with the DMV within 10 days, your license will be automatically suspended.

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Santa Cruz CA criminal defense attorney DUI marijuana chargesSanta Cruz County residents should be aware of three changes in California criminal law that took effect on January 1, 2019. These changes affect people with past marijuana convictions, juvenile offenders under age 16, and DUI offenders.

Past Marijuana Sentences Will Be Dismissed or Reduced

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), which took effect on November 9, 2016, decriminalized or downgraded many marijuana-related offenses. AUMA specifically authorized application of the new, more lenient criminal laws retroactively. AB-1793, “Cannabis convictions: resentencing,” directs the California Department of Justice to identify all old cases where a person was convicted of a marijuana offense that is no longer a crime or has been downgraded in severity. 

Minor offenses will be marked for expungement, which completely clears the offense from a person’s criminal record. For crimes which have been downgraded (e.g., from a felony to a misdemeanor), sentences will be reduced appropriately. If no objection from prosecutors is received by July 2020, these changes will automatically be made. This law relieves individuals from the burden of having to file a court petition to request expungement or resentencing. 

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Santa Cruz gun possession charges lawyerCalifornia’s laws on gun ownership and possession are already among the most restrictive in the nation, yet the state legislature continues to pass new laws in hopes of reducing gun-related deaths. California gun owners should be aware of five new restrictions that will take effect in the coming months.

1. Handgun Concealed Carry Will Require More Training

Current state law leaves it up to individual county sheriffs to determine the requirements for obtaining a handgun concealed carry permit (CCP). 

Effective January 1, 2019, new CCP applicants must complete a minimum eight-hour classroom training in firearm laws and safety. They must also pass a shooting proficiency test with each firearm that the applicant wishes to be licensed to carry. CCP renewals will require a minimum four-hour refresher training, plus a shooting proficiency test with each firearm (Assembly Bill 2103).

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Santa Cruz marijuana DUI defense lawyerCalifornia law enforcement officers have faced a growing challenge over the past two years: how to keep the roadways safe from people driving under the influence of marijuana

Marijuana DUI Arrests Have Risen Since 2016

Two major events have led to an increase in marijuana use in California and a corresponding concern about driving under the influence of cannabis. First, Proposition 64, the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, was passed in November 2016; this allowed individuals to grow and use marijuana for their own recreational purposes. Second, Proposition 64 also legalized the sale of marijuana to anyone age 21 or older, effective January 1, 2018.

Drugged driving arrests have risen significantly in California since the state legalized the use of recreational marijuana. The Orange County crime lab reported that requests to process blood samples related to marijuana DUI arrests rose 40% between November 2016 and June 2017. In addition, the California Highway Patrol reported that marijuana DUI arrests increased 31% from January to August 2018 and that injuries attributed to marijuana DUIs doubled.  

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Santa Cruz DUI attorney parked carDrinking and driving inarguably puts everyone’s safety at risk. Sometimes, a driver leaves an establishment after consuming alcohol, only to realize that their intoxication was more severe than they originally estimated. Safety-conscious drivers may decide to pull their vehicle to the side of the road, find a rest stop, or even park at a gas station to take a quick nap. Although this decision ultimately prevents a potentially catastrophic accident, it also invites curious police officers to investigate the situation. DUI charges are possible in these cases, even when a drunk driver is parked and sleeping safely inside their vehicle.

DUI in a Parked Car

It is possible to be charged with DUI while in a parked car. However, a police officer must typically be able to show that you voluntarily moved your vehicle before the arrest. Voluntary movement may include something as minimal as a car rolling down a driveway after disengaging the parking brake. Other possible evidence that may show a driver moved their car while intoxicated includes:

  • The engine is warm.
  • The driver is in the driver’s seat.
  • The car is in drive.
  • The vehicle is at the scene of an accident.
  • The keys are in the ignition.

Santa Cruz Camping Ordinances

If someone is sitting in their car and behaving normally, a suspecting cop may not have reason to detain a driver, preventing them from obtaining evidence of a possible DUI. However, the city of Santa Cruz, along with many other California cities, has laws restricting sleeping in public. Many of these laws prohibit owners of registered vehicles from sleeping in their cars, except when there is written consent from the land or business owner granting permission, or in a designated camping area. 

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Which Is More Dangerous While Driving: Drinking or Texting?

Santa Cruz, CA drunk driving defense attorneyFor decades, drunk driving was considered the most dangerous driving practice. However, in recent years, texting and cell phone usage give stiff competition for that top spot. Distracted driving leads to thousands of injuries and countless deaths every day in the United States. 

With today’s busy schedules, people often use their driving time as a prime opportunity to multitask. Distractions come from sources such as personal grooming, speaking to other passengers, and eating. Texting and other cell phone use is by far the most dangerous type of distraction. Given what we now know, considering both safety and the legal repercussions, which is the riskiest driving behavior: drinking or texting?

Safety Considerations

Overall, the prevalence of DUI is on a downward trend, while the frequency of texting while driving continues to rise. Although texting usually does not constantly affect a driver like driving while intoxicated does, it can cause a person to take their eyes off of the road for an unpredictable length of time. A distraction for even a split second increases the likelihood of an accident by 23%, a rate similar to the probability of an accident after drinking four beers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), both behaviors are equally impairing to a driver’s ability to drive. Consider the following statistics:

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Tips To Achieve The Best Results During a DUI Traffic Stop

Santa Cruz DUI defense lawyer traffic stop tipsDo you ever get so caught up in your thoughts while driving that your brain goes into an “auto-pilot” mode and self-navigates the vehicle the rest of the way to your destination? Even if you arrive safely, not remembering the trip is frightening; however, it is much scarier when police lights are what brings you back to full awareness. Adding a potential DUI to the ordeal becomes the figurative “icing on the cake.” Here are a few tips and tricks to help you navigate the tricky waters of a traffic stop:

Avoid Being Stopped

Preventing a problem is better than fixing one after it becomes a situation. While advising the avoidance of the “auto-pilot” scenario is helpful, no one is perfect, and the mind is difficult to control. With that in mind, semi-conscious driving is not as attention-grabbing as other behaviors. The top offenses leading to police stops include:

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Protecting Against the Use of Deceptive Practices By Law Enforcement

Santa Cruz criminal defense lawyerPolice officers may not take or search property without just cause, nor can they force anyone to testify against themselves. These laws, along with many others, protect the public from becoming victims of an increasingly powerful justice system, and they place a burden on the shoulders of the police department to complete the investigative steps that are necessary for learning the truth of a particular incident. Unfortunately, myriad excuses exist as to why many law enforcement officials continually fail to meet their requirements and protect citizens’ rights. Instead of putting in the time and effort to obtain their information ethically, many cops use deceptive practices during a criminal investigation.

At a Traffic Stop

One of the most common questions a police officer asks after pulling a driver over is, “Do you know why I stopped you?” This question is not an attempt at polite conversation or a way to "break the ice." The officer hopes the driver will voluntarily confess to a crime, and not necessarily the alleged offense which caused them to pull the driver over in the first place. Additionally, officers frequently stop drivers under the pretense of warning them of a “blown tail light” or other alternate non-moving violation. During this type of “good samaritan” stop, if any evidence presents itself, such as the odor of alcohol which may be indicative of a DUI, an officer will happily use it to their advantage.

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Travel to Canada May Be Off Limits If You Have A DUI Conviction

Santa Cruz, CA DUI defense lawyer international travelMillions of Americans travel back and forth to Canada every year. Most of these visits are short day-trips into the country or last only for an overnight stay. When asked at the port of entry, the three primary reasons which people gave for travel are: pleasure, business, and visiting family. It may surprise you to learn that many of these attempted visits were unsuccessful due to an outstanding charge here in the United States. If you have been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI), you may want to reconsider any prospect of traveling to visit our northern neighbors.

Canada Restricts Admittance

Relations between the United States and Canada are amicable, and travel between the two countries is relatively easy. Although you do not need a passport to cross over from the United States into Canada, one is necessary for admittance into the United States on your return trip. Entrance is relatively easy, on a general basis. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) agent will ask you a series of questions. One query is, “Do you have any criminal convictions?”

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Posted on in DUI

California DUI defense lawyerWhile there are a few exceptions to the rule, officers cannot typically stop a driver unless they have reasonable cause to suspect wrongdoing (that includes traffic violations). However, once a driver has been stopped, the officer may then search for any additional signs of a potential crime. More specifically, they look for signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, or balance issues. If flagged for any one of the alleged “tell-tale signs” of intoxication, the driver may then be subjected to a field sobriety test. Learn more about them, and how you can fight a DUI charge, with help from the following information. (Note: you are not required to engage in field sobriety testing.)

“Standardized” Field Sobriety Tests

Before the late 1970s, law enforcement lacked a consistent method to detect intoxication among drivers. Instead, they were forced to rely on their own judgment and a variety of tests with unknown accuracy rates. Then, in 1977, the NHTSA initiated a study of the various FSTs being used. Their hope was that a reliable and “scientific” method would emerge. Enter today’s version of the Standardized Field Sobriety Test – a battery of tests that officers routinely use to determine if a driver is intoxicated. These include the:

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