UCLA Researcher Accused of Destroying Evidence

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | Sep 16, 2020 | Criminal Defense
UCLA Researcher Accused of Destroying Evidence

According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) opened an investigation into Guan Lei in July. Lei has been at UCLA since 2018. He was working with a professor on a project related to machine learning.

An affidavit prepared by an FBI agent stated that the FBI suspected that Lei had committed visa fraud. The FBI suspected that he was also transferring data or sensitive software to the Chinese military.

However, federal prosecutors did not charge the 29-year-old Chinese national with those federal crimes. Lei is accused of destroying evidence. FBI agents had staked out Lei’s apartment in Irvine. They saw him throw a computer hard drive into the trash after he pulled the drive out of his sock.

Lei attempted to board an airplane at LAX back to China two days after the FBI interviewed him. He was stopped by customs agents and barred from leaving the country.

Six days later, Lei tried to destroy the evidence. FBI agents obtained a search warrant for Lei and his apartment.

Before coming to the United States, Lei had studied at the National University of Defense Technology in China. The university is one of the three colleges that the country’s military forces oversee.

Lei told agents that he had some military training and had worn a uniform on state holidays. However, he insisted that he was not a military officer. He claimed he was just a “normal student.”

A Growing Problem for Federal Investigators

Guan Lei is just another Chinese national studying at a university in the United States who has been charged with a federal crime. Visiting scientists at UC Davis, UC San Francisco, and Standard have been arrested by federal agents and detained.

Xin Wang, a researcher at UC San Francisco, was arrested in June. Authorities in the United States believe that Wang is in the Chinese military and holds a rank that is the equivalent of a major in the U.S. armed forces.

Federal prosecutors claim that the FBI uncovered a plot by Chinese officials. The intent is to place clandestine military scientists in universities throughout the United States.

Allegedly, Chinese officials have instructed military officers who are at colleges in the United States to destroy evidence. There are also efforts by the Chinese officials to get the military officers out of the country.

Are Foreign Nationals Entitled to the Same Rights as U.S. Citizens?

Many people believe that the protections in the United States Constitution only apply to American citizens. There are some rights in the Constitution that belong only to Americans, such as the right to vote and the right to hold office. However, nowhere in the first ten amendments to the Constitution does it state “citizen.”

Most of the protections granted under the Bill of Rights apply to individuals who are in the United States, regardless of whether they are a U.S. Citizen. If the amendment states “person,” the rights are not exclusive to American citizens. Therefore, non-citizens would be protected against unreasonable searches, which is why the FBI needed a search warrant to search Lei’s apartment.

Individuals who are here legally are usually protected by due process. They are entitled to legal counsel and do not have to incriminate themselves.

However, just like citizens who are facing criminal charges, foreign nationals and other non-citizens need a good criminal defense lawyer. Law enforcement agencies and prosecutors may violate a person’s rights. Having sound legal advice can help ensure that the police or other law enforcement officials do not violate a person’s rights, regardless of their status.

If a person’s rights are violated, attorneys work to right the wrong. When evidence is collected illegally, that evidence can be thrown out of court. If there was no probable cause for an arrest, the court should dismiss the charges.

What Should You Do if You are Arrested?

Invoke your right to remain silent. Talking to the police or law enforcement agents is never a good idea.

The details in the story above indicate that Lei talked to the police and answered questions. It is unknown whether he had consulted with an attorney before he agreed to answer questions during an interview.

If you are under investigation or you suspect you could be the subject of an investigation, call an attorney immediately. If you are arrested, tell the agents or officers that you want an attorney.

The officers or investigators may try to persuade you to answer questions. After you provide your name and address, you are not required to answer any other questions. Let the police talk as much as they want while you wait for your lawyer.