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  #1  
Old 03-27-2012, 10:23 AM
ManiacMan ManiacMan is offline
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How does a DA decide to charge I.E. Zimmerman?

From what I have been reading the only account is from Zimmerman. His victim can't give his side obviously. How does something like this work? How is evidence gathered to allow a DA make a informed decision on whether to charge someone? Are the authorities gathering eye witness accounts? How does the DA make sure that those accounts are reliable? Maybe gathering various accounts and seeing if the stories either support one another, or not? How does it really work and in such a way that if a trial occurs its all by the book?

It just seems like such a difficult thing to do...but of course I am not a lawyer.

And as an aside if Zimmerman beats any future criminal charges will he most likely face a civil suit?
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Old 03-27-2012, 10:30 AM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Originally Posted by ManiacMan View Post
From what I have been reading the only account is from Zimmerman. His victim can't give his side obviously. How does something like this work? How is evidence gathered to allow a DA make a informed decision on whether to charge someone? Are the authorities gathering eye witness accounts? How does the DA make sure that those accounts are reliable? Maybe gathering various accounts and seeing if the stories either support one another, or not? How does it really work and in such a way that if a trial occurs its all by the book?
Pretty much. The DA looks at the evidence available and makes an educated decision about whether the case can be won. If it hasn't a snowball's chance in hell, then the DA decides the community is better served by using the limited resources available elsewhere. But, like everything, politics can influence the decision, too.



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And as an aside if Zimmerman beats any future criminal charges will he most likely face a civil suit?
Already planned.

Last edited by John Mace; 03-27-2012 at 10:33 AM..
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Old 03-27-2012, 10:37 AM
aldiboronti aldiboronti is offline
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Originally Posted by ManiacMan View Post
From what I have been reading the only account is from Zimmerman ............
Not according to this Yahoo News report.

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"With a single punch," the Orlando Sentinel, citing police sources, reported Monday, "Trayvon Martin decked the Neighborhood Watch volunteer ... climbed on top of [him] and slammed his head into the sidewalk several times, leaving him bloody and battered."

"That is the account Zimmerman gave police," the paper said, "and much of it has been corroborated by witnesses, authorities say."
Bolding mine. The DA would take these witness statements into account and decide what weight to give to them before any decision to prosecute.
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Old 03-27-2012, 10:43 AM
ManiacMan ManiacMan is offline
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So do the witness swear an afidavit or something like that? Do they have to take lie detector tests? Or is it just strength in numbers of witnesses? So if one person came forward and either strongly supported or dismantled a case what would the DA do? Seems like a toss of the dice unless there were a ton of witnesses, or some video footage...which AFAIK doesn't exist...
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Old 03-27-2012, 11:01 AM
Hermitian Hermitian is offline
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Originally Posted by John Mace View Post
But, like everything, politics can influence the decision, too.
I'm guessing this is the only element that counts at this point.
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  #6  
Old 03-27-2012, 12:15 PM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ManiacMan View Post
So do the witness swear an afidavit or something like that? Do they have to take lie detector tests? Or is it just strength in numbers of witnesses? So if one person came forward and either strongly supported or dismantled a case what would the DA do? Seems like a toss of the dice unless there were a ton of witnesses, or some video footage...which AFAIK doesn't exist...
That's not what the arrest is to determine. That's what the trial is to determine. The Grand Jury (or in some times and places, the preliminary hearing) is there to decide whether there is enough evidence to go to trial. It is not there to determine guilt or the credibility of witnesses or the weight of evidence. Just if there's enough so that the process can move forward. That's probable cause.

The D.A. has a somewhat heavier job of needing to establish that evidence beyond a reasonable doubt exists to secure a conviction. That's where the entire police force, attorney investigators, forensics team, and the whole apparatus of the state comes in. Theoretically, a D.A. shouldn't just arrest people and throw them into court as punishment, although manifestly that happens every day and always has. The office, especially in a high profile case, will spend months or years gathering up every speck of evidence. And the defense will as well. That's why real-life cases aren't settled overnight like on television. The evidentiary process is endless.
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  #7  
Old 03-27-2012, 01:29 PM
suranyi suranyi is offline
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There was a case here in the Bay Area a few years ago where a college student was allegedly gang raped. The DA refused to file charges, saying that she couldn't get enough evidence that would stand up in court. (Apparently, all the eyewitnesses, including the victim, were drunk.) This was a big scandal around here and it probably caused this DA to lose when she ran for re-election.

But here's the thing: Both her replacement local DA and the special state prosecutor panel that was called in to look into the case came to the same conclusion: The rape probably happened, but there's no way to prove it in court with the evidence at hand. So there's been no trial so far at least.
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Old 03-27-2012, 02:01 PM
Vinyl Turnip Vinyl Turnip is offline
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Who is "I.E. Zimmerman"?
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  #9  
Old 03-27-2012, 02:25 PM
John Mace John Mace is offline
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Originally Posted by suranyi View Post
There was a case here in the Bay Area a few years ago where a college student was allegedly gang raped. The DA refused to file charges, saying that she couldn't get enough evidence that would stand up in court. (Apparently, all the eyewitnesses, including the victim, were drunk.) This was a big scandal around here and it probably caused this DA to lose when she ran for re-election.

But here's the thing: Both her replacement local DA and the special state prosecutor panel that was called in to look into the case came to the same conclusion: The rape probably happened, but there's no way to prove it in court with the evidence at hand. So there's been no trial so far at least.
That happened to De Anza college students and the girl involved (aged 17) was not only drunk, but completely passed out. The guys involved were members of the baseball team. De Anza is a local community college near Apple headquarters.

The girl filed a civil suite and lost, although she settled out of court with some of the guys.
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  #10  
Old 03-27-2012, 02:32 PM
iamthewalrus(:3= iamthewalrus(:3= is offline
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Originally Posted by Vinyl Turnip View Post
Who is "I.E. Zimmerman"?
I believe the OP meant "e.g.", as in, "for example", but mistakenly used "i.e.", and then capitalized them, which makes it look like Zimmerman's first two initials.

I parse the subject as: "How does a DA decide to charge [someone, for example] Zimmerman"
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  #11  
Old 03-27-2012, 02:34 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ManiacMan View Post
So do the witness swear an afidavit or something like that? Do they have to take lie detector tests? Or is it just strength in numbers of witnesses? So if one person came forward and either strongly supported or dismantled a case what would the DA do? Seems like a toss of the dice unless there were a ton of witnesses, or some video footage...which AFAIK doesn't exist...
I believe the witnesses usually give their initial statements to the police and sign a written deposition. The depositions and other evidence is turned over to the DA who makes a determination if there is a prosecutable crime. If the DA's office decides to prosecute, a lawyer will be assigned to prepare the case. He or she will decide what witnesses will be called to testify in court to establish the prosecution's case.

The defense attorney will also be allowed to see all the depositions and other evidence. So if he or she finds out that there were witnesses whose testimony will help the defense, they'll be called to testify for that side.
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Old 03-27-2012, 03:13 PM
dolphinboy dolphinboy is offline
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Even if there are no credible witnesses the DA (by way of the police investigators) will gather as much crime scene evidence as possible to see if they can corroborate Zimmerman's story. For example, do the wounds on his face and head match what you would expect if someone tackled a person? Or could they have been self inflicted after the fact? There may be enough circumstantial evidence to hold him for trial even if there are no living witnesses.

No matter how much political pressure there may be to arrest someone there still has to be probable cause. While the world may think that Zimmerman overstepped his bounds it's up to the DA's office to determine whether they are likely to win a conviction. It's not that unusual for a DA to order someone released from custody after they have been arrested if there just isn't enough evidence for a conviction.

It's not in the state's interest to have a long, painful and expensive trial that ends in a hung jury, or worse, an acquittal.
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Old 03-27-2012, 03:20 PM
ManiacMan ManiacMan is offline
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Yep I used I.E. by mistake...using a phone here lol.
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Old 03-27-2012, 07:28 PM
Loach Loach is online now
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In another thread when trying to explain the procedures and what some of the possible problems with going forward with charges I was accused of supporting the shooting of children. Since this is GQ I will give it another try but I will just do it in generic terms instead of bringing in specifics of the current case since it seems to be shifting constantly. And I will use my experiences with cases in my jurisdiction not Florida.

I am currently a police detective. I work mostly with juveniles and sex crimes but I do deal with other cases too. As was pointed out probable cause is all that is needed to make an arrest. When making an on view arrest patrol officers are really only concerned with probable cause. Detectives and Prosecutor's Office Investigators have to look deeper into it. In order to file charges and get an indictment all that is needed is probable cause. A grand jury will only determine if there is probable cause for an indictment. But probable cause is not enough. An arrest with no chance of conviction is a waste of time and money. Even with PC we have to look to see if there is enough for even a chance of conviction.

In my jurisdiction the prosecutor's office is called in for all serious crimes. Sometimes they just want to be informed, sometimes they become a big part of the investigation. During the investigation if I think I have enough for an arrest warrant I first have to run it by our zone assistant prosecutor. She looks not only at PC but what is needed to move forward. After I get approval I then call a judge for a warrant. Unlike how it is seen on TV or how some think it works, it is very rare that an arrest is made before the investigation is concluded or nearly concluded (except on view arrests). So in the real world a detective or the Prosecutor's Office does not arrest when PC is reached in hope that they somehow find enough to get a conviction later. Currently I have a case open in which I know I have probable cause, I think there is a decent chance of a conviction but the prosecutor's office is balking because they aren't sure of a conviction.

To build a case like you are asking it is pretty standard. You take the statement of the suspect if he is willing. It should be taped. You compare it to the physical evidence such as the autopsy, shell casings etc. Angles of the shot, powder marks and other things might let you determine the positions of the subjects, if both were standing, who was on top, how far away from each other they were etc. You take official statements from any witnesses. What they say to the press is meaningless. What they say on tape under oath is all that matters. Their fresh recollections are best so hopefully they came forward early. So the statements and evidence are examined and weighed against each other and then you have to determine what you believe happened and figure out what you can prove. Not always the same thing. It will never be an easy case when the only direct witness is the suspect.
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Old 03-27-2012, 09:09 PM
Senegoid Senegoid is offline
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What I'm not understanding in this case, based on what we've seen in the press, for what that's worth, is what examination of the crime scene the police made when it was all fresh. There's been next-to-nothing mentioned about it.

We know that normal procedure called for drug-testing the shooter, and the police didn't do it. There has been some mention that they didn't impound the vehicle. (Should they have? Why?)

What other on-the-spot crime scene analysis did they do, or not do? There's been argument over in that 2000-post IMHO thread about where Martin was when shot -- Near the vehicle or away from it? Don't the police know that? Were they out there with cameras and tape measures and fingerprint dusting kits? Did they take
Quote:
Originally Posted by Arlo Guthrie
twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy photographs with circles
and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each
one was to be used as evidence
Did they find the impressions in the grass where Zimmerman and Martin were rolling around? It was in the grass, right? Did they find blood samples in the grass or on the sidewalk? Did they collect and do any kind of testing on same? Was the whole block cordoned off with yellow "Crime Scene" tape for hours while they did all this?

I've just seen virtually NO mention of stuff like that in the news media. An implication seems to be, as with the non-testing of Zimmerman's blood, that any amount of very transient crime-scene evidence may have simply not been collected and is now lost to history.

Does anyone know any differently?
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Old 03-27-2012, 09:30 PM
Loach Loach is online now
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Those type of details would not be released to the press during any investigation. Even though the police stated that they reached a conclusion it had been passed to the prosecutor for final determination. The investigation had not been concluded.

Drug testing of potential suspects is not standard procedure especially with no other evidence of drug use. And it is an invasive procedure. It can only be done with consent or a court order. In 14 years I have never had a suspect go for a drug test except in DUI cases. Maybe it's standard procedure elsewhere but I have never heard of it.

Last edited by Loach; 03-27-2012 at 09:33 PM..
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  #17  
Old 03-27-2012, 10:19 PM
Senegoid Senegoid is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Loach View Post
Those type of details would not be released to the press during any investigation. Even though the police stated that they reached a conclusion it had been passed to the prosecutor for final determination. The investigation had not been concluded.

Drug testing of potential suspects is not standard procedure especially with no other evidence of drug use. And it is an invasive procedure. It can only be done with consent or a court order. In 14 years I have never had a suspect go for a drug test except in DUI cases. Maybe it's standard procedure elsewhere but I have never heard of it.
Like I said, I can only go by what I see in the media, for what that's worth. The common meme here has been that drug testing the shooter is standard procedure but they didn't do it in this case.

And if they had done some serious real-time crime-scene investigation, I would have thought it was obvious that they were doing so, even if we don't know what details they found. Was the area cordoned off with yellow tape? Were there photographers crawling all over the scene taking flash photos (since it was at night)? We investigators putting little stakes in the ground to mark significant points, and pacing off distances with tape measures? Those kinds of activities would have been publicly visible. And we know there were already some witnesses to the fight (whatever they might have said), so they would likely have been watching the festivities. Did a gawking crowd gather around the scene? You'd think if anything like this had happened, we'd have heard non-stop jabberings about it of some sort.

ETA: Similarly, did they find the bullet? Did they even look for it? Did they do forensic examination of Martin's body to try to reconstruct the trajectory of the bullet?

We know (if you read enough news articles) that they interrogated Zimmerman for 10 to 12 hours, not just the quickie question or two that you'd have thought from most of the published articles. Assuming we can trust the media to get even that right.

Last edited by Senegoid; 03-27-2012 at 10:23 PM..
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Old 03-27-2012, 11:01 PM
Loach Loach is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
Like I said, I can only go by what I see in the media, for what that's worth. The common meme here has been that drug testing the shooter is standard procedure but they didn't do it in this case.

And if they had done some serious real-time crime-scene investigation, I would have thought it was obvious that they were doing so, even if we don't know what details they found. Was the area cordoned off with yellow tape? Were there photographers crawling all over the scene taking flash photos (since it was at night)? We investigators putting little stakes in the ground to mark significant points, and pacing off distances with tape measures? Those kinds of activities would have been publicly visible. And we know there were already some witnesses to the fight (whatever they might have said), so they would likely have been watching the festivities. Did a gawking crowd gather around the scene? You'd think if anything like this had happened, we'd have heard non-stop jabberings about it of some sort.

ETA: Similarly, did they find the bullet? Did they even look for it? Did they do forensic examination of Martin's body to try to reconstruct the trajectory of the bullet?

We know (if you read enough news articles) that they interrogated Zimmerman for 10 to 12 hours, not just the quickie question or two that you'd have thought from most of the published articles. Assuming we can trust the media to get even that right.
That is a very TV derived version of what crime scene investigation would look like. I don't know where people are getting that drug testing is common practice. Maybe it is SOP somewhere but not where I work. And intoxication is not an element of most crimes.
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Old 03-28-2012, 03:46 AM
BigT BigT is offline
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Originally Posted by Loach View Post
An arrest with no chance of conviction is a waste of time and money. Even with PC we have to look to see if there is enough for even a chance of conviction.
This is the problem everyone had in that thread. It had nothing to do with what you claimed. They don't agree that it's a waste of time and money to make sure the scrutiny of at least a grand jury is invoked. Our entire legal system is based on the idea that a group of your peers determines your guilt, not some prosecutor. Lack of funds to do this should be considered a problem, and not just the way things are done.

It really bugs people when they find out the real world is not as interested in justice as they are.
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Old 03-28-2012, 05:17 AM
ManiacMan ManiacMan is offline
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These people are demanding justice and they are getting it. From what I have read in this thread alone it would seem that the authorities in this case are following procedure. It makes me think that they are doing what they need to so so that if it does go to trial the charges (if any) will stick and Zimmerman will face them rather than have the case dismissed due to some technicality.

For the victim's family it does suck to have Zimmerman free right now but it makes me think that for the case at hand its the lesser of two evils.
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Old 03-28-2012, 07:00 AM
Telemark Telemark is online now
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Our entire legal system is based on the idea that a group of your peers determines your guilt, not some prosecutor. Lack of funds to do this should be considered a problem, and not just the way things are done.
This is a gross oversimplification of the legal process and guiding principles. A trial is not the default course of action whenever a bad event happens. We have district attorneys for a reason; they are supposed to be the first line of triage, to determine what is a good case, and what is not.

Are you proposing that we rely on public opinion to decide if we should charge people with crimes? Are you willing to have very personable and charismatic criminals be able to get away with anything they want?
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Old 03-28-2012, 09:19 AM
md2000 md2000 is offline
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First, the DA's office would have to overrule its previous decision directing the investigating officer not to lay charges (even though he planned to).

Yes, the totality of the evidence is important. Why, whne and where did the altercation take place? Where was the vehicle parked?

The key question, it seems to me, is who went after whom? Common thought on one side seems to be that Zimmerman accosted a guy walking through the neighbourhood and created a situtation that escalated into a fight and gunshot. In that case, being attacked is not grounds for a self-defense acquittal, if he went toward and started the confrontation.

Zimmerman's story is that he had turned around without saying anything and was going back to the car, when he was followed there, accosted, beat up, and defended himself.

Sadly, unless it is a major natiopnal case like this, most homicides don't get the full CSI treatment. Some obvious clues should be the location and direction of the fight and shot, timeline of calls (including Trayvon's girlfiend), and so on. Likely, we will never know for sure.
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Old 03-28-2012, 11:50 AM
DrDeth DrDeth is offline
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Well, since it could be a capital case, in Florida the DA must call a Grand Jury, which is exactly what he has done.

So thus, as far as the unproven allegation that the Prosecutors office directed the Investigator not to lay charges, there could have been legal reason to do so, as they didn’t want the Police charging him with Assault, instead of bring a GJ indictment for Murder.

Also, it may have been too late at that point in time to make a “at the scene arrest” which seems to be needed in a SYG state. A later arrest for Murder would require a GJ indictment.

This is exactly what they are doing, and it’s pretty standard procedure with someone who isn’t a flight risk.
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Old 03-28-2012, 12:30 PM
Loach Loach is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BigT View Post
This is the problem everyone had in that thread. It had nothing to do with what you claimed. They don't agree that it's a waste of time and money to make sure the scrutiny of at least a grand jury is invoked. Our entire legal system is based on the idea that a group of your peers determines your guilt, not some prosecutor. Lack of funds to do this should be considered a problem, and not just the way things are done.

It really bugs people when they find out the real world is not as interested in justice as they are.
I will still try to keep this in GQ territory. Talking about the particular case requires assumptions and knowing what certain individuals are thinking.

A grant jury only finds if there is probable cause. Only probable cause. I have never been involved in a case in which a case was brought before the grand jury prior to charges being filed. In general a grand jury listens to a case in which the prosecutor deemed strong enough to move forward and they confirm probable cause. The cases I have heard about in which a GJ hears a case without charges were when it was a police shooting (to avoid the appearence of favoritism) or when it's politically motivated.

In a perfect world the guilty should always be punished. In our system we have decided to make it difficult to convict anyone so that it is unlikely the innocent are punished. People tend to forget that in the middle or their outrage. I did not know one cop that was surprised they couldn't get a conviction in the Casey Anthony case for instance. It has nothing to do with people not being interested in justice.

Last edited by Loach; 03-28-2012 at 12:31 PM..
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  #25  
Old 03-28-2012, 03:24 PM
puddleglum puddleglum is offline
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One thing to remember is that as soon as a suspect is charged the clock begins ticking because the constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial. This means that a suspect is arrested at the end of the investigation not at the beginning (if at all). This gives the prosecution the maximum time to build a case and since they only get one shot they want to give it the best shot they can. If a DA thinks a case is marginal then they may delay charging the suspect while they hope for more evidence to be uncovered.
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