Recently in violent crimes in D.C. Category

August 3, 2013

D.C. Gun Charges Dismissed Against Sergeant Who Possessed AR-15

A former D.C. Protective Services Police Department sergeant was facing more than a year in prison for unlawfully possessing an AR-15 assault rifle, which his bosses had authorized him to purchase.
Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that in the end, it was not this authorization but a prosecution failure that resulted in a judge dismissing all three weapons charges against the officer.

The defendant's guilt or innocence was not decided by the judge.

Here's what happened:

The defendant purchased the weapon after the chief of his agency announced that it planned to for a highly-specialized SWAT team that would be armed with high-powered semiautomatic weapons. That team would reportedly be focused on curbing domestic terrorism and workplace violence.

The D.C. Protective Services Police Department is an agency whose officers have limited arrest powers and are charged with guarding municipal offices. They are authorized to carry 9 mm handguns. Assault weapons continue to be illegal in the District.

The Maryland purchase of the AR-15, which the defendant at the time had described as his "dream weapon," was authorized by the police agency's top commanders, who cited the defendant's need to train. The deputy chief even provided a letter that indicated the rifle's purchase was authorized by agency because it was intended for official duties. This clearance allowed the officer to circumvent both the normal 30-day waiting period, as well as the federally-required background check that he otherwise would have had to undergo.

At no point was that weapon stored in a police facility, prosecutors say. Nor was it ever reportedly used for anything related to duty. City leaders halted the agency's plans to form a SWAT team.

Prosecutors contended that all along, the defendant sought authorization to purchase the weapon solely for his personal possession and use.

The city has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, but the officer insisted his superiors had given him permission to purchase and possess the weapon.

The defendant in this case has been suspended since he was first arrested back in March of 2011. He turned down various offers of a plea bargain, which in the end seems to have worked to his favor.

Prosecutors refused to back down on the case, despite insistence that it was all political show-boating, designed to put a smaller police agency in "its place."

However, the reason the judge ultimately tossed the charges was because mid-trial, defense lawyers discovered an e-mail, beneficial to their case, that prosecutors had failed to turn over to the defense.

Whether it was an honest oversight or not doesn't matter. Prosecutors have a duty to turn over any and all evidence to defense lawyers prior to trial. That includes exculpatory evidence, or that which is considered favorable to the defense.

A failure to do this can be grounds for a mistrial or, as in this case, a dismissal of charges.

Prosecutors reportedly plan to appeal to a higher court to allow them to proceed with another trial.

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July 14, 2013

U.S. Violent Crime Spikes First Time Since 2006

A 40-year-old man was reportedly attacked recently in Glen Burnie, beaten with a baseball bat and robbed, according to local police. A 35-year-old man has been arrested on charges of first- and second-degree attempted murder, first- and second-degree assault, disorderly conduct, robbery, armed robbery, reckless endangerment and two counts of theft.
Whether the alleged assailant knew it or not, our D.C. criminal defense lawyers recognize this as part of a reported trend of rising violent crimes across the country, as recently noted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which compiles crime statistics.

Preliminary results of the Annual Uniform Crime Report reveal that there was a 1.2 percent uptick in violent crimes last year as compared to the year before, while there was a 0.8 percent decline in the number of property crimes during that same time frame.

The crime report is based on statistics compiled from some 13,800 law enforcement agencies that sent in between six to 12 months of comparable data for both years.

The biggest increases were seen with violent crimes, particularly in cities with populations between 500,000 and 999,9999. (D.C. has a population of 632,300, according to the latest Census figures.)

Murder and non-negligent manslaughter increased overall by 1.5 percent. Aggravated assaults increased by 1.7 percent and robbery by 0.6 percent. The only type of violent crime to see a decrease was forcible rape, which only dropped by 0.3 percent.

In larger cities, like D.C., the violent crime rate spiked by nearly 4 percent. In cities with more than 1 million people, the crime rate climbed by about 3.2 percent.

Still, we are seeing a slight drop in the number of property crimes. Nationwide, burglaries were down more than 3.6 percent, with overall property crimes down about 2 percent in larger metropolitan cities.

However, motor vehicle thefts were on the rise by about 2 percent in cities of sizes comparable to D.C.

All of this follows several years of steep crime declines nationwide. In 2011, the FBI reported the U.S. saw the violent crime rate fall by 3.8 percent after having dipped 6 percent in 2010 and 5.5 percent in 2009. The last year we saw any kind of increase was back in 2006, when the rate inched up by about 1.5 percent. Prior to that, we saw violent crimes drop more than 17.5 percent between 1996 and 2005.

Statisticians are cautioning that we should refrain from panicking or seeking a singular reason for this uptick until we at least have another year's worth of data.

Our criminal defense lawyers know that often with these type of reports, law enforcement agencies will hold them up as evidence that we need to provide more funding, resources and civil rights leeway to police agencies. Already, one agency head quoted by the New York Times has said that "We're dealing with depleted police resources." However, that's been the case now for a number of years when we were still seeing marked decreases in the crime rate.

This is not to say that law enforcement doesn't have a vested interest in keeping these communities safe. However, overreactions will serve no one. We continue to remain committed to serving your interests and protecting your rights.

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July 10, 2013

D.C. Hate Crimes Definition Up for Debate After Recent Attacks

A spate of attacks in D.C. against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals has sparked debate over what constitutes a hate crime and whether police should be identifying alleged victims by their sexual orientation in the first place.
Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers know that it is not enough that a victim of a crime belongs to a group protected by hate crimes statutes. The act must be motivated by that status.

The recent attacks in question include a homicide, a sexual assault, a stabbing and a shooting. However, while police have identified three of the six victims as being transgender, only one of those cases is being investigated as a possible hate crimes. Even LGBT advocates concede that a number of recent attacks weren't likely motivated by the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity. Still, they contend that police should identify victims as such because of their general vulnerability to attack due to a perception of weakness.

However, even some of the victims' families dispute those kinds of labels. In the case of the recent homicide, the aunt of the victim, expressed anger at the fact that LGBT advocates took it upon themselves to distribute a funeral notice that a shooting had "claimed the life of an LGBT victim." However, the aunt says her niece's death had nothing to do with her sexual identity. Robbery was reportedly the motive.

In the past, D.C. police have been accused of indifference or insensitivity to crimes against the LGBT community. However, now there is a lesbian/gay liaison unit to police that investigates all cases where there is any shred of evidence that the case may involve a suspected motive of bias. That means almost every case involving an LGBT victim is going to get special attention.

But again, not every crime against someone who is LGBT is a hate crime. In many cases, the suspect may have no idea whatsoever that the victim identifies this way. And yet, per hate crime statutes, the defendant will face harsher penalties just by virtue of the victim's sexual identity. This is not justice.

We are likely to see more of these kinds of cases, though, as society continues on a path toward greater acceptance of the LGBT community. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act is just the latest reflection of that. That individuals would feel free to express their sexual and gender identity to the world is a positive development. However, that's going to inevitably mean that more victims will be identified as LGBT - not because there are more hate crimes but because more people are open to their communities about who they are.

In the case of the recent stabbing, police have said that the attack was spurred by an argument over money for sex. However, LGBT advocates are arguing it was a hate crime because the suspect's friends had laughed at him for having sexual contact with a transgender person.

D.C. police said that the number of bias and hate crimes has actually dropped by about 18 percent so far this year, compared with this time last year. However, it may be that we are finally seeing some reluctance on the part of authorities to label every crime against an LGBT person a hate crime.

However, D.C. police made a troubling statement recently with regard to the one case that is being currently investigated as a hate crime. That statement was that hate was a "borderline motive." In that case, a transgender woman was robbed at gunpoint, and one of the alleged gunman pulled off the woman's wig and then shot her once in the behind as she ran away.

But even making a statement referencing a person's gender or sexuality during a crime does not necessarily mean that was the motive, and we believe law enforcement needs to be very careful about this, particularly given the enhanced penalties meted out for those convicted of hate crimes.

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July 4, 2013

Bite Mark Analysis Errors Reveal Fatal Flaws in Forensic Science

Forensic analysis of bite marks in criminal cases has been made famous in a number of high-profile trials, such as with serial killer Ted Bundy.
Bundy may well have been guilty, but at least a dozen others convicted based on this same form of flawed evidence almost certainly were not guilty. And yet, they spent decades behind bars, with prosecutors having convinced a jury that "scientific evidence" is above reproach or critical analysis.

Our D.C. criminal defense lawyers know that even though bite mark analysis has largely fallen out of favor in court rooms, for the very fact that it has proven so unreliable, this whole "it's right because science says so" argument has only continued to flourish. DNA evidence is perhaps the most well-known example.

While DNA evidence tends to be key in serious felony cases such as homicide or sexual assault, it is also now being more widely-used in lower-level cases, such as for burglary or theft.

Interestingly, bite mark analysis got its start in a robbery case. Back in 1954, a grocery store was robbed in a small town in Texas. The alleged robber reportedly took a bite out of a hunk of cheese before fleeing the scene. A dentist later testified that the bite mark left in that discarded cheese matched the dental imprint of the man suspected of robbing the store. He was convicted.

In the wake of that, the "science" of forensic bite mark analysis proliferated among a small, mostly ungoverned group of dentists. These individuals would stand up in a court of law and testify as to the unequivocal match of someone's dental imprint left at the scene - despite the fact that there isn't and has never been any definitive scientific proof that teeth are able to be definitively matched to a bite in human skin.

Perhaps that why we've seen, since 2000, at least two dozen men who were charged and convicted of rape or murder on the basis of victim flesh bite marks, who have since been exonerated. Most of those spent more than a decade behind bars before they were ultimately freed by DNA evidence.

In addition to the fact that the scientific methods are questionable, at best, the greater problem is that there is a bias among forensic dentists, many of whom are paid several thousands dollars to offer their expert testimony for the prosecution.

This kind of inherent bias is also frequently cited among lab technicians who handle DNA evidence deemed critical to so many cases. Lab workers are seen as being on a "team" with prosecutors, despite the fact that they are actually supposed to be unbiased scientists. A criminal case out of Boston right now involves a lab technician who routinely "fixed" cases in favor of prosecutors, throwing thousands of convictions into question.

This is not to mention the fact that methods of storage and handling of DNA have been known to be lacking, giving rise to concerns of cross-contamination or damage to the samples.

The bottom line is that DNA evidence, just like bite mark analysis before it, has the potential to be flawed. It is subject to bias more than jurors and the public are led to believe. Given its pervasiveness in so many criminal trials, it's important that defendants recognize the need for a strong defense to raise questions and challenge its validity.

Continue reading "Bite Mark Analysis Errors Reveal Fatal Flaws in Forensic Science " »

November 23, 2012

D.C. Gang Members Face More Serious Penalties for Crimes

Nearly a dozen men, labeled gang members, were arrested for reportedly robbing and attacking homeless people and others who had been deemed "vulnerable" in the D.C. area. Namely, the attacks occurred in Chinatown, Adams Morgan and U Street.friends1.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers
know anytime a person is labeled as a "gang member," the crimes for which they are charged are going to carry more weight because prosecutors can then argue that the action was taken in order to further the cause of a criminal organization. That's bad because it means stiffer sentences and higher fines.

In 2007, the District passed a law called the D.C. Criminal Street Gang statute, found in D.C. Code 22-951. It makes it a misdemeanor offense to solicit, invite or otherwise recruit another person to join a criminal street gang. These are groups of six or more people that require crimes of violence as a condition of membership or that perpetuate such criminal acts as part of its frequent activities or core purpose. The law also makes it a felony - punishable by up to five years - if you knowingly or willfully participate in either a felony or a violent misdemeanor for the purpose or benefit of the gang. This is on top of whatever sanction you would receive for the underlying crime.

In this case, the men, between the ages of 18 and 20, were reportedly led by a "president" who directed a series of violent actions against numerous individuals. In June alone, prosecutors say the group carried out the following acts:

  • Assaulted, beat and robbed a man around 3:30 a.m. as he walked near a bus stop on H Street NW;

  • Targeted a Hispanic man for an attack around 3:45 a.m., hurling racial epithets at him as they punched him, leading to additional charges under the district's hate crime statutes;

  • Targeted a homeless man around 4 a.m. near K Street NE, stole his backpack containing his clothes and tried to take his shoes. Crimes against the homeless are also considered hate crimes;

  • A "flash mob" of members targeted a gas station on Florida Avenue to steal numerous items;

  • Surrounded a woman leaving the Metro train and robbed her of her phone;

  • Gained entry into an unoccupied house, sprayed graffiti throughout and broke a window;

  • Targeted a former member at night at a bus stop and threatened to kill him if he spoke to police;

  • Robbed a man at Metro Center.

Among the charges the men are facing are theft, robbery and assault.

The group reportedly didn't call themselves a "gang," but rather a "crew," that organized using social media, including YouTube and Facebook.

Still, they might, under the technical definition, qualify as a criminal gang.

According to the FBI, some 1.4 million people in the U.S. are members to some 33,000 gangs. A recent report indicates those organizations are responsible for nearly half of all violent crimes, with a number of organizations sourcing weapons from the military.

Business Insider lists the gangs that are highest on the FBI radar as:

  • The 18th Street Gang;

  • Florencia 13;

  • Barrio Azteca;

  • Juggalos;

  • The Almighty Latin King Nation

  • Somali gangs;

  • MS-13;

  • Trinitarios;

  • Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos;

  • Mexican Mafia;

  • Mongols;

  • Vagos Motorcycle Club;

  • Wheels of Soul.

Continue reading "D.C. Gang Members Face More Serious Penalties for Crimes" »

August 28, 2012

D.C. Defense: Charges in Fatal Shooting Dropped Due to Witness Credibility Issues

One of the two defendant's in a fatal shooting that stemmed from a botched robbery attempt at a convenience store will not face murder charges, with prosecutors citing a lack of evidence.peoplewalking.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers know that because homicide is the most serious crime for which you can be charged, the evidence should be substantial in order for prosecutors to move forward with a case.

However, this doesn't always stop prosecutors from pressing ahead. This is why in every felony case it's important to have a skilled defense attorney who is adept at handling such matters, and is knowledgeable with regard to having evidence suppressed, challenging witness testimony and uncovering potential elements that may work in a client's favor.

In this case, the primary issue was witness credibility.

According to The Capital Gazette, a 19-year-old was charged with nine felony charges, including armed robbery and first-degree murder for the slaying of a convenience store clerk back in the summer of 2010. The 48-year-old employee was reportedly fatally shot while running away from the suspects.

Prosecutors say they have no doubt the teen was involved, but the witnesses who would testify to his involvement have all been convicted in another fatal shooting that happened at a pizza shop a few months later.

His co-defendant in the convenience store shooting reportedly pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison. He too was involved in the pizza shop murder, and was given another 30 years for that homicide.

Although there was surveillance footage of the homicide, it was grainy and not clearly visible as to who did what or even who was carrying the gun.

So ultimately, aside from the testimony of convicted murderers, there was no other evidence linking the 19-year-old defendant to this crime.

Still, he won't go free, as he too was convicted in the pizza shop murder, and was sentenced to 50 years in prison, though he could be released after 30 years. Prosecutors say this factored into their decision not to move forward with the convenience store shooting as well, saying they hope his other conviction will keep him behind bars for some time.

Although witness credibility became a key issue in this case, it can be a critical matter in many other criminal cases, both before and during trial. If a prosecutor suspects a witness may be lying or is simply not believable, he or she may choose to reduce the charges originally filed. However, this usually doesn't happen without some push from defense lawyers in convincing them that they don't have a solid case.

Other times, credibility is raised at trial, and it's up to the judge or jury to weigh whether to believe a witness or not.

Some of the ways that a good defense attorney can effectively question a prosecution witness's testimony would be to point out:

  • Inconsistency. Has the person's account of events remained consistent from start to finish? If not, why? Does the person have a bad memory or are they trying to hide something?
  • A history of lying. If a person has a proven history of lying about one thing or another, how can they be trusted to tell the truth this time?
  • Objectivity. Is there something the person has to gain by providing this testimony, whether financial or a reduced sentence for themselves or some other motivation that would cast doubt on their word?
  • Outside circumstances. Maybe the person isn't lying, but is there a likelihood they are mistaken? For example, was it too dark to reasonably have a good look at the defendant's face? Were they wearing their prescribed glasses or contact lenses? Was he or she intoxicated? What was the weather like? Were there any outside circumstances that could prevent the witness from providing an accurate account of events?

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May 10, 2012

D.C. Violent Crimes and The Insanity Defense

Washington D.C. defense attorneys have been watching closely the news from the Northwest neighborhoods, where police are reporting a spate of violent crimes in D.C., to which one 19-year-old man has since been linked. 952313_gavel.jpg

According to The Washington Post, the first victim was a 66-year-old tourist from Denver, who was found in an alley on Emerson Street. Investigators said he had suffered fatal head wounds.

Then it was a 53-year-old man discovered with head injuries on Georgia Avenue.

And then later that same night, a 37-year-old woman had suffered head injuries while on the 5000 block of Ninth Street.

The latter two reportedly survived those attacks.

Then two other attacks were reported.

For weeks, the motive in the attacks were a mystery. Police had even gone so far as to urge people to walk in pairs, saying the assaults were apparently random. All they knew was that the individuals were in the same neighborhood, had all been alone and had all suffered head injuries.

It wasn't until just a few days ago that police made an arrest: a teenager, the younger brother of a pro-football player, now facing two assault charges as well as a first-degree murder charges.

The teen is accused of sneaking up behind these individuals and hitting them on the back of the head with a hammer.

It's still not exactly clear what the motive may have been, but news reports indicated that the suspect had been treated last year for psychiatric issues, when his guardian and teachers said they had become fearful of his behavior. He was allegedly yelling and laughing out loud in school and talking to himself for hours on the bathroom floor.

Files released by the D.C. Superior Court indicate that the suspect suffered from schizophrenia, visual and auditory hallucinations and had only borderline intellectual functioning. Psychiatrists who evaluated him said that he moved rapidly between blank stares to unpredictable and threatening behavior. And then other times, he would seem completely fine. He reportedly had a history of hospitalizations for psychiatric issues.

Now, in most D.C. assault or murder cases, a defense of insanity is simply not going to fly. There is a high bar for what has to be proven in order for this defense to be successful.

First, it's important to note that rarely does a person "beat" the charges with an insanity defense. An insanity defense is actually an admission that you did, in fact, commit a crime, but that you were afflicted with a severe mental defect or disease that rendered you unable to understand the nature or wrongfulness of your actions.

So in a normal trial, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to show that you in fact committed the crime. When D.C. criminal defense attorneys opt to employ the insanity defense, that burden of proof shifts. No longer are you fighting to prove you didn't do it, you're now on the offensive in proving you didn't know right from wrong at the time you did it.

It's a tough bar to meet, and studies have shown that less than 1 percent of defendants are successful in using this defense. Conferring with an experienced D.C. criminal defense lawyer can help you better understand all your options.

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March 3, 2012

Washington D.C. Murder Case Presents Defense Challenges

The Washington D.C. murder trial of a socialite accused of killing his wife has taken some strange twists.


According to a detailed story by Fox News Washington, the case has captivated many in the D.C. community, both because of the wealthy status of the alleged victim and the courtroom antics of the accused. The suspect has reportedly claimed to be an Iraqi general. He was known to walk around his neighborhood in military gear while smoking cigars. He has also suggested his wife's murder was the work of an Iranian hit man, and has gone on hunger strikes while comparing himself to Judeo-Christian religious figures.

All this brings up two important points that most D.C. criminal defense attorneys deal with frequently.

The first is that media coverage of a case can absolutely impact the opportunity for the accused to receive a fair trial. In some cases, defense attorneys may even request a change of venue due to the publicity the case might have garnered before it has a chance to be heard by a jury. The group of individuals from which attorneys have to choose during voir dire, or the selection phase, may all be somewhat swayed when has been heavily covered in print, broadcast and online.

The second issue is that sometimes, Washington D.C. defense attorneys have the challenge of defending a client who does not aid in his or her own defense. Self preservation would indicate that this would be a rare circumstance, unless the individual suffers some mental illness. Such a sickness could have played a part in the alleged crime as well, although proving insanity as a criminal defense is rare in Washington D.C., as well as throughout the country.

Anyone accused of homicide in Washington D.C. needs to immediately secure an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows how to work in the best interest of a client, regardless of the challenges of a given case. Sometimes, this is done with the help of experts in the medical, forensic and psychological fields.

In this case, the 91-year-old Georgetown victim had been a foreign affairs journalist with a taste for fine art and fashion. Her German husband was 40 years younger and had been known for rather eccentric tendencies. Over the years, he had claimed to be everything from a spy from East Germany to a CIA operative. He wore an eye patch at times, which he said was due to losing an eye while serving as a bodyguard for a U.S. ambassador in Paraguay.

The reality, however, was that this was a man who was unemployed and supported by his much-older wife, who seemed to tolerate his antics.

There had been some accounts that the suspect had struck his wife in the past.

Then last August, he called 911 to report he had found his wife deceased in the bath tub. He e-mailed an obituary to the local media, stating it was a fall that caused her death. A medical examiner, however, ruled her death was a murder.

A neighbor told police she had heard soft cry and a "sinister laugh" around the time of the woman's death.

Her husband has since been charged with second-degree murder.

Eccentric behavior doesn't prove guilt, any more than a neighbor who heard laughing (sinister is an subjective characterization) around the time a 91-year-woman was found dead.

It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds.

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February 29, 2012

Violent Crimes in D.C. Reportedly Spike; Officials Urged not to Overreact

Violent crimes in Washington D.C. are said to be escalating at an alarming rate in the first couple months of the year. According to The Washington Times, the district saw a 40 percent uptick in crimes of a violent nature, including nearly twice as many gunpoint robberies in D.C. than in the first several months of 2011.


Washington D.C. criminal defense attorneys know, however, to take such reports with a grain of salt - a sentiment further underscored by researchers at the D.C. Crime Policy Institute, who note that the numbers, while accurate, are somewhat taken out of context.

All too often, alarming statistics like this are used by law enforcement to justify an increase in spending or in over-vigilant tactics in order to tamp down the swelling rate of crime - even when the numbers may not show a complete and accurate picture.

That said, here is what the Times is reporting:

That all but one police district is reporting double-digit upswings in violent crimes, according to internal documents from the Metropolitan Police Department. This reported increase follows more than 12 months of a downward bend, when the number of homicides in the district were lower than at any other point in the last 50 years. And while homicides continue to fall below the numbers reported in recent years, other crimes, such as robberies, assaults with deadly weapons and sex crimes, are said to be picking up the pace.

The greatest augmentation of crime figures happened in Capitol Hill's 1st District. In that area, crimes classified as violent soared an astounding 69 percent.

Then in the 7th District, near the Anacostia River, an hike of more than 40 percent was reported.

The district with the smallest rise in serious crimes was the 2nd. There, police reported a 4 percent rise. Still, of the 53 reported, nearly 40 were robberies, though many, which were reported in wealthier neighborhoods, are believed to be connected.

Some politicians have come forward in press conferences to note that constituents don't feel safe. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the rise in robberies could be traced back to a number of individuals snatching small electronics, namely smartphones. Robberies alone saw a reported 55 percent increase in comparison to last year.

Additionally, all types of crime, not just violent crimes, are reported to have climbed by about 25 percent.

The mayor has come under fire for not releasing the numbers soon enough, and some have even alleged city officials have played down these numbers.

But the headlines would tend to suggest the opposite is true.

It all must be taken in the appropriate context. As Washington Post Columnist Mike DeBonis points out, the situation is "hardly evidence of a crime epidemic."

As the crime policy institute's researchers noted, district leaders need to take into account the long-term trends. They further pointed out that it is easy to become alarmed when looking at stories that reflect short-term crime "trends," but those figures may not actually be reflective of the true amount of crime on our streets. In fact, a six-week analysis is not nearly enough on which to base any long-term crime policies.

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