Police are required to adhere to a strict set of rules under The Constitution that sometimes make it difficult for them to track down the person responsible for a crime or to obtain sufficient evidence to prove that person’s guilt. But some officers have started to turn to questionable techniques to get evidence and then cover it up by getting that same evidence through more reputable methods later on. The concept is called parallel construction and it’s something defense attorneys in San Diego agree the general public should be very concerned about.
San Diego criminal lawyers know that sometimes it can be hard to explain the concept of parallel construction without an example. In a recent Wired article, there is an excellent example wherein Tadrea McKenzie robbed a marijuana dealer using a BB gun, which would be considered robbery with a deadly weapon under Florida law. McKenzie was expecting to get a minimum of four years behind bars, but he ended up getting a plea bargain for only six months probation after pleading guilty to only a second-degree misdemeanor. The reason? His attorneys were able to prove the police tracked McKenzie’s whereabouts using a secret surveillance tool called Stingray, which operates like a fake cellphone tower, pinging cellphones to obtain a suspect’s exact location and to listen in on phone calls and read texts.
Obviously this technology could be a huge violation of the constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure, so the police tried to hide their use of the device by also obtaining a court order from a judge to get data from Verizon about the location of McKenzie’s phone, but that data isn’t nearly precise enough to pinpoint the location of a phone to a specific house. Police also claimed they used a database that locates people by their phone numbers, but since McKenzie was using a burner phone, he wouldn’t have been in those databases. Given this information, the attorneys were able to prove that there was no way the police could have known what they claimed to know about McKenzie without the use of a Stingray device. Because the police had a non-disclosure agreement with the FBI when it comes to the use of the device, the lawyers were able to obtain an incredible plea bargain for their client that was essentially a way to sweep the matter under the rug.
But as the Wired article points out, parallel construction is often successful at covering the questionable investigation tactics police use. So successful, in fact, that it’s impossible to know how often the technique is actually used -though experts do believe it is used surprisingly often.
The issue is a complex, and rather disturbing, one. But one thing is certain -these investigations make it more important than ever to never talk to the police without your San Diego criminal defense lawyer present. Remember that if questionable means are used to investigate your case, but then you reveal those details to the police during an interrogation, you may have provided the police with a parallel construction that will allow them to hide any secret surveillance techniques they used to obtain the information.
If you have any questions about your right to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure or if you believe you are under investigation for a crime, San Diego criminal attorney Peter M. Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free consultation.
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