The wrongful conviction of innocent people has gradually been recognized over the last quarter of a century as a problem for the Canadian criminal justice system. It is extremely difficult to determine the number of wrongful convictions in Canada. One of the major aspects of wrongful convictions is the tunnel vision; it results when there is a narrow focus on a limited range of alternatives. Tunnel vision is insidious and it results in the police officer becoming so confused upon an individual or incident that no other person or incident register’s in the officer’s thoughts. The various research that has been conducted on this topic primarily focuses on the phenomenon of tunnel vision, which Margaret Beare defines in her scholarly article Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop, “the single-minded and overly narrow focus on an investigation or prosecutorial theory so as to unreasonably color the evaluation of information received and one’s conduct in response to the information” (Margaret Beare, 2008, p.21).
Tunnel vision, and its perverse by-product “noble cause corruption,” is the antithesis of the proper roles of the police and Crown Attorney. Yet tunnel vision has been identified as a leading cause of wrongful convictions in Canada and elsewhere. Beare and her colleagues have determined that while tunnel vision is definitely a factor in wrongful convictions, it is the end result from a number of supporting faulty investigatory procedures.
The article “Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop” is Margaret Beare’s research on a project undertaken with Dianne Martin that was still incomplete at the time of the latter’s sudden death. The objective was to asses the degree to which the police had or had not implemented recommendations for changes in police procedures made by inquiries, task, forces, commissions and auditor general’s reports. The recommendations are based on wrongful convictions. The overrepresentation of judges and lawyers in the evaluating process and the privileging of legal knowledge over social science or other scholarships appear to be endemic. It is also easier to formulate languages like “tunnel vision” and systemic missteps to characterize weaknesses in the system than to provide concrete examples how to provide those in the future. There is a tendency to revert to blaming individuals or rotten apples despite having identified the whole system per as contributing to the wrong outcome.
As the pace of DNA exonerations has grown across the country in recent years, wrongful convictions have revealed disturbing fissures and trends in our criminal justice system. Together, these cases show us how the criminal justice system is broken – and how urgently it needs to be fixed. In 2001, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law School analyzed the cases of 86 death row exonerees. They found a number of reasons why innocent people are wrongly convicted in capital cases. Also Marvin Zalman give other factors in wrongful convictions, included in their article “Criminal Justice System Reform and Wrongful Conviction”, Which describes the nature and importance of wrongful conviction as a criminal justice policy issue, the development of an innocence movement to litigate on behalf of potential exonerees and to promote policy issues, the innocence movement’s policy and research agenda, and the very small amount of criminal justice research on the issue in comparison to legal and psychological inquiry. Wrongful Conviction as a Policy Issue: This section describes the policy salience of wrongful conviction, the nature of the emerging innocence movement, the movement’s reform and research agenda, and the limited nature of innocence research by criminologists and criminal justice scholars. “Wrongful conviction is now an issue on the public agenda. The news media, long Supportive of prosecutors, are now sensitized to miscarriages of justice, and their Continuing reports of exonerations keeps the issue in the public eye”. (Tulsky, 2006; Warden, 2003). Marvin Zalman also makes a specific points about the civil cases, fair trial rights vindicate the truth, “while government misconduct is revealed as having concealed evidence of a Person’s innocence, leading to a gross miscarriage of justice” (Garrett, 2005, p. 38). As a result of the DNA revolution, it is now thought that wrongful convictions are so frequent as to constitute a major policy concern that poses a serious challenge to the fairness and accuracy of the Criminal justice process. This article has proposed a broad research agenda addressing the new innocence movement that works to clear wrongly convicted convicts and to generate and publicize policy changes that logically should reduce miscarriages of justice.
Margaret Beare makes an interesting point in regards to police officers assuming innocence until proven guilty. “We ought not to wonder at the number of cases where it is revealed that the police operated from an assumption of guilt, but rather question how a justice system could have been imagined whereby officers working daily for months or even years on a case-often a horrendous crime of some sort-could be expected to try to build cases while assuming innocence.” (2008, p.33). She also points out that the theme in all of these wrongful-conviction cases is that justice is a “game that you wrap to fit your preferences, or your unconscious biases.” Therefore “shop around” and select evidence, experts, and judges based on your specific agenda” (2008, p.33). Erroneous errors in police investigations have been one of the most common causes of wrongful convictions and that behind some of these errors is a deliberate attempt to get the guy that you know to be guilty. Margaret Beare argues that wrongful convictions are caused by other issues such as systemic problems within the criminal justice system itself. She also explains that these are “problems that won’t be fixed as long as the miscarriage of justice is treated as an isolated even…wrongful convictions don’t occur in a vacuum. There are systemic reasons they go wrong” (2008, p.29). However, using the word systemic does not cure the problem.
One of the news article was published by CBC news that highlights some major cases in Canadian history. This article has twelve cases and a brief description for each case and it is fairly recent because it was updated in October/2010. It is written from the media’s perspective and no comments from the police are noted.
Noble Cause Corruption is a mindset or sub-culture which fosters a belief that the ends justify the means. In other words, law enforcement is engaged in a mission to make our streets and communities safe, and if that requires suspending the constitution or violating laws ourselves in order to accomplish our mission, then for the greater good of society, so be it. The officers who adopt this philosophy lose their moral compass. This type of thinking is misguided and places the officer at risk of losing his/her job, facing criminal charges, and seriously damaging the reputation of their agency. Some examples include: lying in court to convict a suspect, also referred to as “testifying,” planting evidence on suspects, and falsifying reports. According to Beare, the noble cause corruption when the “justice officials – in the name of getting a conviction – are prepared to violate laws, Charter protections, and any number of ethical considerations” (Beare, 2008, p.33).
This topic “The role of police in wrongful convictions” relates to the idea around police deviance and accountability because Maurice Punch in his text Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing argues that corruption is not one thing but covers many deviant and criminal practices in policing which also shift over time. It rejects the ‘bad apple’ metaphor and focuses on ‘bad orchards’, meaning not individual but institutional failure. For in policing the organisation, work and culture foster can encourage corruption. This raises issues as to why do police break the law and, crucially, ‘who controls the controllers’? Corruption is defined in a broad, multi-facetted way. It concerns abuse of authority and trust; and it takes serious form in conspiracies to break the law and to evade exposure when cops can become criminals.
Various wrongful conviction inquiries have been made in the past several decades, many of which have gathered vast media attention. The notorious cases of David Milgaard, Thomas Sophonow, Guy Paul Morin, Donald MarshallJr., James Driskell and Gregory Parsons are a reminder of the fallibility of our criminal justice process.Unfortunately, these individuals are but some of the relatively recent persons who have been incarcerated at length for serious crimes that they did not commit. They are not the only victims. Every time someone is convicted of an offence for which they are innocent, the justice system fails in three ways: first, by inflicting unjustifiable harm on the wrongfully convicted person, secondly, by allowing the actual perpetrators of the crime to remain free to victimize others, and thirdly, by re-victimizing the victim or his or her family by undoing the emotional closure that has already taken place.
Beare, M. (2008). “Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop”, in M. Beare (ed.) Honouring Social Justice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press: 17-54.
Zalman, M. (2006). Criminal Justice System Reform and Wrongful Conviction. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 17(4), 468-492.
Punch, M. (2009). Police corruption: deviance, accountability and reform in policing. UK: Willan Publishing.