On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of the Guildford Four, (one of the notorious ‘Irish’ miscarriages of justice in England and Wales that led to the creation of the Criminal Cases Review Commission – see anniversary article here… ), controversy still surrounds the organisation. This week it was revealed that the body is ‘fast-tracking’ the case of professional footballer Ched Evans, released this week after serving half of a five year sentence for rape. Ched, who played for Sheffield United football club, has always maintained his innocence and has applied to the CCRC to investigate his case. The CCRC’s explanations for the decision to fast-track his case have been unconvincing (read more here…). This negative publicity comes at a critical time for the CCRC, as a Parliamentary inquiry into the operation and effectiveness of the miscarriages body is launched by the Justice Committee. The Committee is inviting submissions from interested parties, in order to answer the following four questions:
Whether the CCRC has fulfilled the expectations and remit which accompanied it at its establishment following the 1993 report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice
Whether the CCRC has in general appropriate and sufficient (i) statutory powers and (ii) resources to carry out its functions effectively, both in terms of investigating cases and in the wider role of promoting confidence in the criminal justice system
Whether the “real possibility” test for reference of a case to the Court of Appeal under section 13(1) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 is appropriate and has been applied appropriately by the CCRC
Whether any changes to the role, work and remit of the CCRC are needed and, if so, what those changes should be.
The deadline for submissions is 5th December. You can read more here….
Wrongful convictions are an international problem. Our Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted decided there was a need for an International Wrongful Conviction day. It was the idea of one of our founders, Win Wahrer. Seven other countries have now come on board—the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., the Netherlands, Ireland and Japan.
Why a wrongful conviction day?
Wrongful Conviction Day informs the general public, on an international level, that wrongful convictions have occurred, are occurring and will continue to occur in the future. There’s a need to change our system to uncover them and avoid them in future.
It’s also a day for the wrongfully convicted themselves—for those who’ve managed to get their convictions quashed and those hoping that that will happen in the future. It is an acknowledgement of the injustice of what’s happened to them.
The right not to be convicted of a crime you didn’t commit is a human right—and if one day a year is a wrongful conviction day, that’s a good thing.
Getting the innocent out of jail and convicting the right person
Here are three cases where a wrongful conviction ultimately led to conviction of the right person.
Nova Scotia’s Donald Marshall Jr. spent 11 years in jail for the murder of Sandy Seale. After Donald was cleared, the real killer, Roy Ebsary, was convicted of the crime.
Newfoundland’s Greg Parsons was convicted of murdering his mother after she was found dead in her bathroom, stabbed more than 50 times. After Greg was cleared, Brian Doyle was convicted of her murder.
David Milgaard was convicted of the 1969 murder of Gail Miller, a nurse in Saskatoon—she was raped and stabbed to death on a street in Saskatoon.
Our association came onto the case in 1997, and we had the uniform Gail had been wearing sent to a laboratory in the U.K. for DNA examination. David Milgaard was excluded but Larry Fisher was a match.
Fisher was charged and convicted of the murder 30 years after it was committed. During the 23 years David Milgaard spent in jail for a crime he did not commit, Larry Fisher had continued raping and stabbing women.
David’s exoneration and Fisher’s incarceration were satisfying outcomes for the public and the criminal justice system.
Our association is at the forefront of trying to expose wrongful convictions in Canada. We prioritize the most serious convictions—mostly murder and manslaughter. These are cases where the individual is serving a substantial sentence, often a life sentence.
In Canada, the process of overturning a wrongful conviction is difficult to go through, complex, time-consuming, and expensive. Few people can afford to go through it and few cases do.
Our clients are people who have exhausted all their appeals. Their only remedy is to try and persuade the Minister of Justice in Ottawa to review their case. And if the decision is made that there was a miscarriage of justice, then the minister will send the case back to the provincial appeal court and have the case re-reviewed by the provincial appeal court.
A much more helpful system is possible
We in Canada are urging for a much more helpful system for claims of wrongful conviction. We’d like to see a tribunal, independent of the minister and governments, which could review, research, and subpoena witnesses and decide if a conviction should stand.
The UK has had this kind of process in place for 20 years now and it’s been extraordinarily successful. More than 500 wrongful convictions have been reversed, ranging from homicide to shoplifting.
What I’d like Wrongful Conviction Day to accomplish
I hope the day helps build awareness of our existence.
I would encourage the public to talk to MPs about the need for reform, to follow our cases on the Internet and through the media, look at our website to see what we’re doing, and keep informed of the issues.
That’s really important in this law and order age, when the focus always seems to be on conviction and punishment. Sometimes, like it or not, we get it wrong.
James Lockyer, a principal at Lockyer Posner Campbell, is co-founder and lead counsel of the Association in Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted, an organization that advocates for the wrongly convicted. His association has reviewed many cases since its inception in 1993, leading to the successful exoneration of 18 innocent people. He himself has helped expose more than ten wrongful convictions in Canada, including the cases of Guy Paul Morin, David Milgaard, Clayton Johnsonand Gregory Parsons.
Here is a press release from AIDWYC regarding the first Wrongful Conviction Day coming up October 2nd! Here are details about activities with the Irish Innocence Project
LAUNCH OF FIRST EVER WRONGFUL CONVICTION DAY OCTOBER 2!
Toronto, ON (September 29, 2014) – The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) is launching the first International Wrongful Conviction Day October 2nd, 2014. The annual event will highlight the need to prevent and remedy wrongful convictions around the world.
AIDWYC is a Canadian non-profit organization that is the direct successor to the Justice for Guy Paul Morin Committee, a grassroots organization that came into existence in support of Guy Paul Morin immediately following his wrongful conviction in the summer of 1992. This Committee reconstituted itself as AIDWYC in May 1993. The group’s volunteers have reviewed hundreds of cases, leading to the successful exoneration of 18 innocent individuals, who together have spent 175 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.
The media is encouraged to cover this very first Wrongful Conviction Day. The Association’s pro bono lawyers, board members and some of the people who have themselves been wrongly convicted are available for interviews before and on October 2nd.
Event in Toronto October 2nd, 2014:
Law Society of Upper Canada
Lecture in Barrister’s Lounge 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.
Reception in Convocation Hall 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
130 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M5H 2N6
LECTURE: AIDWYC will hold a lecture titled Preventing and Rectifying Wrongful Convictions by
Understanding Their Causes. James Lockyer, AIDWYC’s co-founder and the lead lawyer who represented many of the wrongly convicted who were eventually exonerated such as Guy Paul Morin, David Milgaard, Steven Truscott, Clayton Johnson, Romeo Phillion and many others, will speak. York University’s Dr. Tim Moore, an expert on false confessions, will also make a presentation.
Dr. Moore offered the following explanation as to the importance of this particular topic on this memorable day: “False confessions are among the leading causes of wrongful convictions. Social scientists have shed considerable light on the investigative tactics that put people at risk
for confessing falsely. There are viable alternatives to current practices. It is time to start using them.”
RECEPTION: AIDWYC will be hosting a reception with a full program which will feature wrongly convicted keynote speakers:
Exoneree John Artis, who at the age of 19 was convicted of a triple murder along with his co-accused boxer Rubin Hurricane Carter, will speak. He spent 15 years incarcerated in New Jersey prisons because he refused to lie. John Artis had this to say regarding his wrongful conviction: “Devoid of any evidence or fact, authorities attempted to have me state that Rubin Carter was a murderer, to assist in convicting Rubin and sending him to the electric chair, for the promise that I would be released. In reality, it would have wrongfully convicted two innocent people and sent both of us to our deaths. I refused. Integrity is an innate, immeasurable, uncompromising quality.”
Exoneree Ron Dalton, who was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, Brenda in Newfoundland, will speak. He spent nine years incarcerated and thanks to his own efforts and that of lawyer Jerome Kennedy, was exonerated in 2000.
Ron Dalton shared the following insight: “Personally, I found when all else was taken from me, I learned to appreciate and trust my own sense of self worth. I was truly the only person who knew, with absolute certainty, I was innocent. I remain extremely grateful to my friends and family members who believed in my innocence and worked tirelessly to help me prove it. Yet I took most solace from the sure and certain knowledge of my innocence that I alone possessed – the truth is a powerful companion in times of darkness. Simply put, wrong is wrong. We all have an obligation to right the wrongs which come to our attention and do what we can to prevent (or at least correct, when they occur) future wrongful convictions which serve to weaken our criminal justice system and lower our collective faith in fundamental truth and justice.”
Shocking news coming from Spain, where it has become clear that a Dutch citizen, Romano van der Dussen, convicted in 2005 of a series of sexual assaults, REMAINS in prison, despite DNA proving his innocence in 2007.
Spanish authorities have had van der Dussen in prison since the rapes took place in 2003. He was found guilty on – now definitively erroneous – eyewitness identifications (with no other links between the suspect and the crimes) in 2005.
ven der Dussen, the photofit, and Mark Dixie
However, in 2007, INTERPOL were informed by British police, that convicted murderer Mark Dixie – serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of 17 year old model Sally Ann Bowman in the UK – had previously lived in Malaga in 2002-2003. Spanish authorities uploaded the DNA obtained from the sexual assaults, and subsequently received a report in March 2007 that the DNA from the scenes matched British murdered and serial offender Mark Dixie.
One might expect that in 2007, Spanish authorities – horrified that they were keeping an innocent man behind bars, would move swiftly to ensure his release. Instead, the case has bounced around the legal system, delayed by legal technicalities. His solicitor is now awaiting fingerprints and DNA of Dixie from British authorities to proceed further with securing the release of van der Dussen. ELEVEN years since his imprisonment, and SEVEN years since the authorities discovered his innocence. What can the Spanish possibly be doing?
In NY, a judge just issued an order denying the state a chance to respond to the motion by Gary Thibodeau that he should get a new trial, because of new evidence of innocence, in his rape case 20 years ago because the state missed its deadline. I put this in its own story, rather than Quick Clicks, because I find it so unusual. Most doing post-conviction innocence work are used to being held to strict deadlines, while seeing the prosecution get extension after extension (while our clients sit in prison with substantial evidence of innocence). In my cases, when the State has missed a deadline, they simply file late and their error is ignored. It’s nice to see a judge taking these claims seriously and holding the state to the same rules to which convicted inmates are held.
UPDATE: Apparently the court has changed its mind and given the state a chance to respond despite missing its deadline. Of course!
“A North Carolina death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence on Tuesday was once held up by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as an example of someone who deserved to die,” the Huffington Post reports. You can read the details here.