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What is "parallel construction," and should it concern Americans?

Maybe it was nothing more than the lucky break that law enforcers and prosecutors say it was. The driver simply made a questionable lane change on a freeway outside Denver and was pulled over. And, behold, multiple police officers who just happened to converge at the roadside stop discovered several kilos of cocaine in the car.

Result: arrest and conviction.

Or perhaps it was a cracked taillight, an officer's allegation of tailgating, a stated failure to use a turn indicator or a claim that a motorist failed to come to a complete stop at an intersection. All these things and more routinely lead to close police-citizen interactions on Colorado and national roadways. And they sometimes lead to criminal penalties far more adverse than might have seemed reasonably expected when a vehicle was initially flagged over.

Seasoned criminal defense attorneys retain a studied cynicism about such claims. That is, they suspend belief in criminal enforcers' claims until police actions have been meticulously vetted for truth.

According to the respected global advocacy organization Human Rights Watch, it is important that they do.

Here's why: Data culled from an extensive report examining nearly 100 court cases and information divulged by criminal law insiders in dozens of interviews reveals a "deliberate concealment of evidence" in far more stop-and-seizure cases than is commonly assumed.

The rather ominous sounding term for that is "parallel construction," meaning the alternative stories that police and prosecutors sometimes use to explain why they detained an individual and what led to their discovery of criminal evidence.

What is sometimes hidden in parallel construction cases -- even "routinely" so, notes a recent NPR report on the subject -- is that incriminating evidence came surreptitiously via federal sources and spying methods rather than being discovered through local police work.

That is an obvious problem that the NPR media spotlight and above-cited report note "opens the door to law enforcement abuse and misconduct."

We will take a closer look at parallel construction in our next blog post.

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