In Western Australia, a Corruption and Crime Commission investigation is underway after it has been revealed that a mistake in labelling DNA samples in a laboratory led to the wrongful conviction of a man in 2004. There are lots of aspects to this story that beggar belief. Here are some that we know about already:
- The original mix-up at the laboratory: DNA found at the scene of a burglary was incorrectly identified as belonging to the innocent man. The DNA actually belonged to a man with the same name and a laboratory worker assigned the DNA test results to the wrong person.
- The laboratory informed the police of the mix-up after it’s discovery in April 2016 when the real offender was arrested over a separate matter. The police then took a further YEAR to act on this information.
- The victim initially protested his innocence to police but agreed to plead guilty on the advice of his lawyer who apparently told him that no one was likely to believe him and that he risked a prison sentence if he went to trial.
This laboratory is again under investigation – hot on the heels of another inquiry launched last month after it emerged a forensic biologist for PathWest, Laurance Webb, was sacked because he breached testing protocols four times between 2008 and 2014, including failing to conduct quality control testing and have work peer reviewed (see here….) . There is also an urgent question over why the police took a year to act on the information. One must surely also question the original legal advice to plead guilty – though that is not being mentioned in any of the media reports below:
CCC probe: Man wrongly convicted after DNA bungle
WA cops took a year to clear innocent man
Man wrongfully convicted after DNA mixup
DNA bungle finds WA man wrongly convicted of home invasion in 2004
I’ve written before about the many injustices that the Indigenous people of Australia face when caught up in the criminal justice system (for example see here…. and here…. and here ). I’ve also had occasion to write about the flawed investigative techniques of Australian police officers (see here… ). Both issues combined to see the wrongful conviction of a young Aboriginal man, convicted of the 2010 manslaughter of 21 yr old Josh Warnecke. However, justice has finally been done with his wrongful conviction overturned after over four years in prison.
Gene Gibson had given police a confession – induced by false evidence – when he was intellectually incapable of understanding the legal process. Gibson had been interviewed without an interpreter (despite having little English language) and no lawyer present. Gibson retracted his confession but was still convicted. He was supported in his efforts to win his freedom by the mother of the victim (who claims to feel ‘hoodwinked’ by the police), and some of Australia’s best legal professionals, working for free.
The Police Commissioner is planning to meet with Gibson after his release to personally apologise. In an earlier investigation into the police handling of the case, a scathing report found the problems with the case were a symptom of wider “failures and weaknesses” in the Western Australian Police handling of major cases. A total of eleven police officers face disciplinary action over their handling of the case.
Read more here:
and earlier reports from 2015 on the police disciplinary action:
An interesting question, with, I suspect, a terrifying answer. But who knows when miscarriages of justice in Australia are so notoriously difficult to overturn. Particularly if you are an indigenous prisoner, as this article points out:
For Aboriginal people who already have the justice system stacked against them, the avenues to protest a guilty verdict are limited, and it is unlikely you will be believed.
Remember that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are massively overrepresented in the criminal justice system of Australia.Aboriginal people represent only 3% of the total population, yet 28% of Australia’s prison population are Aboriginal.
This podcast details one case in particular of a suspected miscarriage of justice – of an Aboriginal man sentenced for a murder in 1991, that it is highly unlikely he was involved with despite his confession (most of which was thrown out of court for being involuntary). This is a case that is worthy of support – but points to a deeper problem: that there are most likely to be many many more like it, hidden from view not just because of the systemic hurdles in overturning wrongful convictions, but the almost blissful ignorance of the public that there are serious flaws in their justice system that only very rarely come to the surface.
Read more here… Curtain And The Case For Freedom: How Many Indigenous Prisoners In Australia Are Innocent?
New Zealand has seen a few high profile miscarriages of justice in recent years, yet successive governments have ruled out the possibility of setting up a body – similar to the Criminal Cases Review Commision in the UK – to investigate potential miscarriages of justice. Justice William Young said courts could benefit from having a Criminal Cases Review Commission, like that established in the UK – an idea backed by the Police Association and most political parties. In a rare interview – which you can listen to here: Supreme Court Judge interview – the Justice discusses welcoming the introduction of such a body – despite being recently dismissed by the Ministry of Justice. There is also a handy guide to the New Zealand post-conviction relief here: Reviewing Criminal Cases. While in 2012 – Malcolm David Birdling published a PhD thesis examining the two systems (available here): Corrections of Miscarriages of Justice in New Zealand and England and Wales (PhD Thesis).
Australia is viewed by many as an idyllic continent, where people can feel safe, and the rule of law prevails. Yet despite being a first world nation, policing can often be outdated and primitive. The use of paid-informants, and the reliance upon supposed ‘jail-house’ confessions has been known to cause wrongful convictions for decades. Yet as recently as 2009, the police of New South Wales used a paid informant to secure a confession from a young vulnerable Sudanese refugee. This supposed confession was obtained while the young man believed the informant had been brought to him to offer support during questioning by the police.
Such tactics not only smack of the worst kind of trickery, they also provide the flimsiest of evidence upon which to base a prosecution. However, this is exactly what the prosecution in the murder case against JB – a Sudanese refugee aged 15 at the time – did. Not only did they rely upon this evidence, they then proceeded to cover it up. It was not disclosed at trial, nor at a subsequent appeal, that the man known as A107 was a police informant, who then avoided his own criminal charges after this assistance with the case against JB.
There is now – belatedly – an inquiry into the police – including the ‘editing’ of contemporaneous notes – and the prosecution (for non-disclosure). This comes 7 years after the jailing of an innocent teenager. The inquiry should be asking why the police, as recently as 2009, were using such methods to try and obtain confessions, and then conspiring to cover their methods up.
Read more here:
Probe launched into wrongful conviction of Sudanese refugee jailed over Edward Spowart murder
Posted in Australia/New Zealand, Compensation/Exoneree compensation, Eyewitness identification, False confessions, Uncategorized, wrongful conviction
Tagged Bite mark testimony, Bite-Mark Evidence, compensation, exoneree compensation, false confession, forensic science, new trial, wrongful conviction, wrongful conviction compensation
Posted in Australia/New Zealand, Commissions/Innocence Commissions/Governmental Case Review Agencies, Conviction Integrity Units, Exonerations, False confessions, Police conduct (good and bad), Post-conviction relief, Reforming/Improving the system, Uncategorized, wrongful conviction
Tagged Conviction Integrity Unit, false confession, forensic science, police misconduct, wrongful conviction, wrongful conviction compensation
Posted in Australia/New Zealand, Commissions/Innocence Commissions/Governmental Case Review Agencies, Compensation/Exoneree compensation, Exonerations, Eyewitness identification, False confessions, Post-conviction relief, Reforming/Improving the system, Uncategorized, wrongful conviction
Tagged compensation, DNA, DNA testing, exoneration, exoneree compensation, false confession, miscarriage of justice, new trial, wrongful conviction, wrongful conviction compensation
Posted in Asia, Australia/New Zealand, Compensation/Exoneree compensation, False confessions, Legislation, Police conduct (good and bad)
Tagged Aboriginals, Bite-Mark Evidence, China, compensation, Compensation Cap, compensation legislation, exoneree compensation, false confession, forensic science, Hawaii Innocence Project, junk science, miscarriage of justice, new evidence, new trial, New Zealand, Prison Debate Team, wrongful conviction compensation
Roseanne Beckett, wrongly convicted for conspiracy to kill her husband in 1991, served 10 years of her 12 year sentence. She finally overturned her conviction in 2005. This month, 26 years later, she successfully sued the New South Wales (Australia) government for AU$2.3m for malicious prosecution after proving that it was the corrupt detective, Peter Thomas and his obsession with Beckett, that led to her wrongful conviction. In a lengthy ruling, the judge stated;
“Ms Beckett says that if she had not been prosecuted by Detective Thomas, tried and imprisoned for over ten years, her future might have been “like any other normal woman, mother, or member of a community,..The fact that the State has managed successfully to defend a substantial proportion of Ms Beckett’s claims in these proceedings ought not be permitted to disguise the fact that Detective Thomas’ determination to get square sullied his objectivity. In the ten years of her incarceration, Ms Beckett was denied the basic human right of liberty and she was separated from her family, her friends and her community. She was deprived of her role as a mother. She lost the opportunity to engage in social and romantic relationships. She was denied a valuable working life that may have brought with it not only pecuniary profits but also the intangible benefits of doing well in one’s occupation.The enormity of this loss is made still more staggering by the significant period of time for which that loss was suffered.”
For media coverage see here: Roseanne Beckett awarded $2.3 million for wrongful conviction over soliciting murder of husband
For a comprehensive review of the case with lots of links – see here: Roseanne Beckett: A Miscarriage of Justice
The case of Andrew Mallard (pictured here) will be well known to those in Australia – he was wrongly convicted in 1995 of the murder of two women in Western Australia, spending 12 years in prison before his conviction was overturned. Mallard was eventually awarded AU$3.25 for his 12 years wrongly imprisoned, but the litany of ‘errors’ during the police investigation continue to come to light.
The real perpetrator was never convicted of the murders, he committed suicide in 2006 after being named as prime suspect by the police subsequent to a cold case review. However, during this review, and other subsequent inquiries into the policing handling of the murders, many questions have been raised about the police handling of evidence and exhibits – with many being claimed to be “lost”, now appearing on exhibit lists during a police audit – at the same time the police claimed to have lost the exhibits. Is this incompetence of malfeasance?
The whole investigation, the police handling of the evidence, the wrongful conviction and the ongoing shambles – should leave all Western Australia police and judicial system ashamed. There is a wealth of material to read on the Mallard case, as there have been so many official inquiries into the case. For more on the media coverage of recent revelations read here:
Posted in Access to DNA testing, Australia/New Zealand, Capital punishment, Compensation/Exoneree compensation, New Evidence, wrongful conviction, Wrongfully Convicted Women
Tagged capital punishment, compensation, Death Penalty, DNA, DNA testing, exoneree compensation, new evidence, police misconduct, wrongful conviction compensation
Since the high profile exoneration of Teina Pora (see here…) and lots of calls for reforms in New Zealand, including a body to look at miscarriages of justice, the newly created New Zealand Public Interest Project (NZPIP) has now started work. A charitable organisation, it plans to look into cases as well as wider concerns about the operation of the NZ criminal justice system. The body already has a queue of high profile cases in which a prisoner is claiming innocence. While good news…. it is not a government backed (or funded) body… which should have been the response to growing concerns about the justice system in New Zealand. One hopes that if they can bring attention, and overturn, further miscarriages of justice, the government will take the issue seriously and set up a funded body. Read more here….
Australia has seen another high-profile wrongful conviction hit the headlines this week with the release on bail of Henry Keogh after serving 19 years in prison for the apparent murder of his fiancee in 1994. Keogh had always maintained his innocence, claiming a litany of errors during the autopsy, resulting in the bizarre conclusion that he had drowned his fiancee in the bath by lifting her legs over her head. The motive was apparently financial, with his fiancee having several life insurance policies. The case has been back and forth to the South Australian courts and Governors over the years until the South Australian Court of Criminal Appeal finally ordered a retrial on Monday, permitted Keogh to be free until such time the DPP decides to bring another prosecution. Keogh, aged 59, was only permitted a further appeal to the courts after a change in South Australian legislation last year, allowing appeals on ‘new and fresh compelling evidence’. Read more on the news here….
Henry Keogh released on bail after 20 years in jail on Anna-Jane Cheney murder conviction
and a journalist who assisted with the case for years, Bob Mole, has a page dedicated to Henry Keogh’s case here….
Networked Knowledge: The Henry Keogh Homepage