Archive for the ‘Police Role in Wrongful Convictions’ Category

On September 4th, 2005, days after Hurricane Katrina, four New Orleans police officers, Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Robert Faulcon, opened fire on six unarmed residents, two of whom died. Afterwards, these officers as well as their at the time Sargent, Arthur Kaufman, who was assigned to investigate the shooting, attempted to cover up the shootings.  The cover up included conspiring to plant a firearm, fabricating witnesses and lying on police incident reports. The cover up lead to the arrest of Lance Madison on attempted murder charges. The officers falsely claimed that Madison opened fire on them which is what led to them opening fire on those six residents. Madison spent three weeks in prison before a judge released him.

Bowen, Gisevius, Villavaso and Faulcon were convicted of federal firearms charges, which has a mandatory minimum prison sentence of at least 35 years. Kaufman was convicted of assisting in the cover up of the shooting. Faulcon who was convicted of charges in both fatal shootings, was sentenced to 65 years. Bowen and Gisevius, were sentenced to 40 years. Villavaso was sentenced to 38 years. Kaufman was sentenced to 6 years. All five were convicted of participating in a cover up.

In order to understand these officers’ corruption, it is useful to refer to Punch’s (2009) three typologies of police corruption, a typology of types of officers, a typology of practices, and a typology of levels of police deviance.

These officers would be classified as meat eaters, according to Punch’s (2009) typology of types of officers. Meat eaters are officers who actively and knowingly participate in illegal activity. In this case, all officers actively and knowingly committed illegal actions, firing at unarmed residents, murder, and the actions taken to cover up their crime.

A typology of practices contains eight categories, a few of which are applicable to this case. Specifically, this case is relatable to the following categories the fix, direct criminal activities, and flaking and padding. The fix refers to “undermining criminal investigations or proceedings, loss of evidence, fixing parking tickets” (Punch, 2009, pg. 27). In this case, all five officers attempt to undermine the criminal investigation of the shooting by attempting to cover it up. Direct criminal activities, refers to “committing a crime in clear violation of criminal norms” (Punch, 2009, pg. 27). In this case, all five officers violate the law in numerous ways, firing at unarmed residents, murder, and the actions taken to cover up their crime. Lastly, flaking and padding refers to “planting or adding to evidence to ‘set someone up’” (Punch, 2009, pg. 27). In this case, the officers attempt to justify their opening fire on six residents by falsely claiming that Lance Madison shot at them first.

Punch’s (2009) typology of levels of police deviance includes three levels, externally driven, within the police domain and system failure: labeling and wider impact of corruption. There is evidence of police deviance within the police domain, specifically process corruption. The officers plant evidence and make false statements. If one reads further into the case, the prosecution of the case, there is evidence of system failure, specifically police and criminal justice failure. During the case’s prosecution, prosecutors are criticized by the judge in seeking a lighter sentence for the highest ranking officer at the shooting scene and unsure of the credibility of officers who plead guilty and testified against other officers.

References

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2012/04/04/katrina-police-killings.html

Punch, M. (2009). Police corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing. Cullompton, Devon: Willan Publishing.

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Police Corruption “is a specific form of police misconduct designed to obtain financial benefits, other personal gain, or career advancement for a police officer or officers in exchange for not pursuing, or selectively pursuing, an investigation or arrest.”  In order to find recent examples of police deviance I went online and I searched newspaper articles. One that caught my attention involved five former members of the Toronto Drug Squad who were sentenced to only 45 days of house arrest after the lengthy trial and investigation.

This investigation took over 15 years and cost over 12 million dollars before this case came to a conclusion. There is a time line of what occurred prior to case which can be seen. The initial charges included conspiracy, assault, extortion, and theft. They were all found to be guilty of obstruction of justice because they covered up entering the apartment of a heroin dealer without a warrant and three out of five officers were also convicted of perjury.

There were a series of events, which led up to this case. It started initially from 1992-1997, when 16 complaints were launched against one of the officers for “assaultive conduct“. The police public complaint bureau completed investigations for how a few of the officers arrested and detained two individuals. As the years passed there were several other issues, which came up that, had to be investigated. One of those was that the officers had searched the apartment of a heroin dealer without a warrant. In their notes they added that they had obtained a warrant when this was not the case. The dealer stated that over $2000 had been taken from him but the court dismissed this claim. These officers lied to the courts so it could be possible that they did take the money, however, it was never proven. With the evidence that was given the only charges that went through were perjury and obstruction of justice.

Looking at the first typology in evaluating the officers they had nothing to gain from searching the apartment without a warrant. The only thing they got out of it was a much quicker search, which became invalid without having a warrant. There were complaints launched against one of the officers for assaultive conduct. These officers also abused their power by making false notes, which obstructed justice. These officers can be seen as meat eaters, as they abused the power they had.

When looking at the second typology we can see this example as being “the fix.” The courts were lied to in order to make the outcome how the officers wanted. They were not honest, in their police notes they wrote down that they had warrants when really they did not.

Finally since they all went in on this together they all were corrupt and lying to the justice system as a collective. They falsified their notes and abused the power that they had. There are other allegations as well however; those cannot be proved 100% such as taking money from the heroin dealer’s apartment. However, if they lied to the courts about having a warrant before entering they may have lied about many other things as well.

References

CBC NEWS. (2013, January 4). Toronto police officers get house arrest for corruptionRetrieved January 20, 2013, from CBC News:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2013/01/04/toronto-police-officers-sentencing.html

Mackenzie, P. (2013, January 4). Timeline of the police corruption case: 15 years to a sentence. Retrieved January 20, 2013, from thestar.com:  

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/crime/article/1310869–timeline-of-the-police-corruption-case-15-years-to-a-sentence

Growing up I always wanted to be a police officer. At a very young age I was drawn to the career, due to an event that took place at my elementary school. I was about nine, and we had a day where some parents of the kids came in to talk about their jobs. My friend’s dad came in with his uniform on and he explained to the class what life is for a police officer and the roles involved. He explained to us that the police are about integrity and values, from that moment on I was instantly attracted to the job like a young girl attracted to Justin Bieber nowadays.

As the years passed I began to understand what the duties of a police officer are and maintained a profile to best fit the job. However, I also came to realize that many things were occurring within this field of work that the average man would say are “not right.” Keeping updated with current events has made me realize that police officers do not carry the golden name that we would think they do. They are often called names such as “pigs.” Nevertheless, learning about police deviance and accountability will help me to better understand the nature of work that the police are involved in.

A definition we can get of police deviance is that it occurs “when law enforcement officers behave in a manner that is inconsistent with the officer’s legal authority, organized authority, and standards of ethical conduct” (Ross, 2012). Police deviance from what I understand includes discrimination, misconduct, intimidation, excessive force, and sexual harassment to name a few. We are taught to be obedient towards authority, however if our authority is doing unlawful things and is going unpunished than why is the average person being punished for committing the same acts. Why are the police allowed to get away with actions that are cruel and unjust? However, if I were to do the same thing I would have a criminal record and receive some sort of punishment. Examples of this can be as simple as not wearing their hats when on patrol or more serious incidents such as verbal abuse, perjury of police reports, and committing perjury when testifying in court. It is sickening that such behaviour is so common in many agencies that it has become the way of doing business and is no longer considered serious enough to warrant a formal organizational response” (Ross, 2012).

With the study of Police deviance and accountability I want to further explore this definition to get to the real meaning. This is a very important area of study because then we can deprive reasoning to cases such as the Robert Dziekański case. In this situation he was a Polish immigrant and did not know English. He was then taken into police custody and Robert Dziekański  “died after being hit with a stun gun at Vancouver International Airport” (CBC News, 2012).

As you see above four RCMP officers jumped on Dziekański, and tasered him to death. Police deviance and accountability is important to study to help explain such events. It is important to analyze such things so we can put an end to these types of events.

It is said that, “Police corruption is the lack of police integrity. It also constitutes one of the most significant obstacles to positive police-public relations in today’s society” (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 2010). How can we live in a system where we need the police serving and protecting our communities, but we fail to have positive relationships with them. Police deviancy is an everyday problem for most police departments. There is a lack of police departments taking accountability for their officers’ actions and are shy of taking steps to investigate these matters. An example of this is the RCMP, for the last four years CBC has requested them to provide reports for all the misconduct that occurred. “The RCMP failed to track internal misconduct” (CBC News, 2013). This tells us that if the biggest police department is shy of its moral duties, then we must step up. Hence why this area of study is important.

References

CBC News. (2012, October 14). 5th anniversary of Robert Dziekanski’s Taser-related death. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/10/14/bc-dziekanski-taser.html

CBC News. (2013, January 13). RCMP failed to track internal misconduct for years. Retrieved January 13, 2013, from MSN News: http://news.ca.msn.com/top-stories/rcmp-failed-to-track-internal-misconduct-for-years-1

Ross, J. (2012). Deviance and Corruption. In J. Ross, Policing Issues: Challenges & Controversies (pp. 131-148). United States of America: Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police. (2010, August 8). Corruption in Policing: Causes and Consequences. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from Royal Canadian Mounted Police: http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/pubs/ccaps-spcca/corrup-rev-eng.htm

A wrongful conviction can be understood as the conviction of an individual of a crime that person did not commit. The “crime that person did not commit” could refer to an “actual innocence” mistake (in which the convicted offender was not even involved in the actual crime), or it could refer to a “legal innocence” mistake (in which the convicted individual was involved in the crime to a different extent than the crime represented by the charge). 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. A situation where an individual is found to be legally guilty of a crime he or she did not commit; and the actual perpetrator is out free in the world. For a variety of reasons a person may be wrongfully convicted of a crime he or she did not commit, and the only way to prove his or her innocence is in a court of law. 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. Canadian wrongful conviction victims are: Donald Marshall Jr., James Driskell, David Milgaard, William Mullins-Johnson, Steven Truscott, Kyle Unger.

While conducting an initial Google search on the topic “The Role of Police in Wrongful Convictions in Canada”, a number of interesting cases emerged. One of the result was a news article 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.
An interesting case that was found during the preliminary research done on the topic is the case of Donald Marshall Jr case. The late Mr. Marshall was as a young Aboriginal man from Nova Scotia imprisoned 11 years for a murder he did not commit. The Marshall case was the subject of the first public inquiry into a wrongful conviction in Canada. The inquiry first raised awareness about wrongful convictions and it also made important recommendations about how to prevent them in the future.

Another interesting case was found is the case of Tammy Marquardt A young single mother from Ontario who was imprisoned for 13 years for the murder of her two and one half year son on the basis of erroneous forensic pathology expert testimony that the cause of her son’s death was asphyxia.

The term miscarriage of justice is not defined in legislation, but has been broadly defined by courts to include cases “where there was no unfairness at trial, but evidence was admitted on appeal that placed the reliability of the conviction in serious doubt. In these cases, the miscarriage of justice lies not in the conduct of the trial or even the conviction entered at trial, but rather in maintaining the conviction in the face of new evidence that renders the conviction factually unreliable.” Miscarriages of justice are not limited to cases of proven or factual innocence and include both cases where there have been unfair trials or the reliability of the conviction is in serious doubt. Justice Kaufman in an important report advising the Minister of Justice whether to reopen a conviction has stressed that a miscarriage of justice would occur both if an innocent person was convicted or if new evidence could reasonably have affected the verdict. In the latter circumstances “it would be unfair to maintain the accuser’s conviction without an opportunity for the trier of fact to consider new evidence.” Thus convictions in Canada can be both re-opened and quashed on grounds short of proven innocence. In my view, this is a strength of the Canadian system given the practical difficulties of establishing innocence in a definitive manner.

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).
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 over representation 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.

The idea of 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).

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.
Statistics

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.

As the pace of DNA exoneration 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 exoneration 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.

Wrongful convictions are an inherently difficult topic to study, but the increase in exonerations over the past two decades has accentuated the need for research on how and why wrongful convictions occur. The major factor contributing to the increased discovery of wrongful convictions has been the use of post-conviction DNA examinations. Exoneration using DNA evidence have been well publicized, whereas non-DNA exoneration have typically been difficult to track, but both are important in determining the major factors behind wrongful conviction.

In conclusion, there can be no greater failure of the Criminal Justice System than to convict an innocent person. Yet we know it happens, and with greater frequency than once believed. If one extrapolates from the 197 convicted persons exonerated by DNA of serious crimes in the U.S., and the small but growing number in Canada, it is only reasonable to assume that the actual number is far greater, because of the high number of cases where DNA was not available to assist in determining the truth. This is unacceptable. Fortunately, it is possible to greatly reduce the potential for wrongful convictions. In every Canadian case discussed earlier, serious, avoidable errors were made in the police investigations (as well as by other players in the Criminal Justice System). There is now considerable research on why investigative failures leading to wrongful convictions occur, which provides the road map to preventing them. Proper recruiting and training, implementation of the major case management model, fostering a culture of excellence in ethical investigations, and ongoing education into the causes of wrongful convictions and proper investigative techniques are necessary to create an environment in which only the guilty are convicted, not the innocent. A wrongful conviction not only hurts the individual convicted, it hurts society, both in terms of the true guilty party being allowed to remain free, but also in terms of the public’s confidence in the Criminal Justice System. The police play a pivotal role in this system, and must play a similarly significant role in working to prevent wrongful convictions. The question arises, what can we as a society to do help combat wrongful convictions? Can we do anything in regards to police training?

References:

Beare, M. (2008). “Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop”, in M. Beare (ed.) Honouring Social Justice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press: 17-54.

Punch, M. (2009). Police corruption: deviance, accountability and reform in policing. UK: Willan Publishing

Wrongful convictions have been a part of the Canadian criminal justice system for decades. Yet very few criminologists or legal scholars have been looking into the topic. We have only recently begun looking at previous criminal convictions which may have been the result of a wrongful conviction. A situation where an individual is found to be legally guilty of a crime he or she did not commit; and the actual perpetrator is out free in the world. For a variety of reasons a person may be wrongfully convicted of a crime he or she did not commit, and the only way to prove his or her innocence is in a court of law. 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 as: “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”(2008, p.21). Put differently, tunnel vision is the presumption that an individual suspect is guilty at an early stage of the investigation and proceeding with that focus firmly in mind. But Beare and her colleagues have determined that while tunnel vision is definitely a factor in wrongful convictions, it is the end result. A variety of other factors including faulty investigatory procedures, police deviance and corruption, and systemic, structural, and individual factors, all play a huge role in adding up to the final step, of tunnel vision. Various inquiries have been held to determine the root causes of these wrongful convictions but the recommendations stemming from these extremely time-consuming follow ups are not being followed or understood, and more wrongful convictions are occurring. These recommendations are not being understood by the police officers, and more importantly the individual police agencies are failing to accept this guidance. They are not doing enough in regards to re-training of officers or training of new ones in order to help combat this problem. Noble cause corruption is another phenomenon which leads to wrongful convictions. It is a mindset or sub-culture which fosters a belief that the ends justify the means. Also various other factors have come to light including invalid expert testimony given by so called experts in the field, which has later proven to be incorrect.
An interesting theme that is apparent to the broader literature is the use of DNA testing to exonerate hundreds of wrongfully convicted individuals. A majority of wrongful conviction articles look at cases in the United States of America; this is not surprising in the sense that the U.S. has a much larger criminal justice system in comparison to its neighbor, Canada. Also Leo and Gould give other factors in wrongful convictions, included in their article Studying Wrongful Convictions: Learning from Social Science, which are “eyewitness misidentifications, false confessions, informant perjury, junk science, tunnel vision, police, and prosecutorial error”(2009, p.18). Many of these are in direct relation to the police. Police deviance has been an ongoing issue for decades now, and lately has become more and more prominent due to the advancements in technology, and the media attention it receives. Leo and Gould highlight the fact that in the late 1980′s DNA testing is what launched the inquiries into wrongful convictions, and since then more than 230 individuals have been exonerated of their wrongful sentences. We must not forget that there are currently hundreds of applications for inquiries into cases, but due to the lengthy time it takes for the cases to proceed, innocent individuals remain stripped of their liberties and freedoms.
Margaret Beare makes a very interesting point in regards to police officers assuming innocence until proven guilty. When one is working for weeks, months, and in some cases years to prove the guilt of an individual it is extremely difficult for him to build his guilty case by assuming innocence. She points out an apparent theme in many of these wrongful conviction cases to be “that justice is a game that you wrap to fit your preference, 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. Officers wanting to get the guy they “know” to be guilty and forgetting about other possible suspects, which leads to their instincts being false. This has been repeated time and time again in several wrongful convictions such as the case of Donald Marshall Jr.
Beare argues that wrongful convictions are caused by other issues such as systemic problems within the criminal justice system itself. She goes on to say 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). She stresses the fact that just saying it is a systemic problem does not cure the fact that it continues to go on. In relation to this I have noticed that many of the articles published make various realizations such as, this is a problem with the criminal justice system, or a structural problem within a specific organization, but they make no suggestions in regards to solving these issues. We must ask ourselves how big of an actual problem is this, that it is taking this long to solve? Agreeing with Bears belief, Punch suggests that police corruption and deviance should be looked at through a systemic viewpoint, and many instances of deviance are due to organizational problems.
The idea of noble cause corruption is also something to ponder in the sense that 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). According to Maurice Punch in his text Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing, noble cause as an officer doing what he had to do in order to “get a result, achieve convictions and see justice done.”(2009, p.107). He believes that an officer is guilty of the noble cause corruption syndrome when said officer is willing to do anything within his means to achieve a conviction. The officer strongly believes that a guilty person will get away with a crime unless he or she does something about it. Whether this means putting someone they suspect of committing a crime behind bars, instead of having solid proof, then so be it. Many officers work on cases and investigations for months at a time only to be left with the uncertainty of whether the suspect will get convicted. Many officers take it upon themselves to ensure that ‘justice is served’, and feel that they are doing it for the good of the community and in some cases, the country.

Some Wrongful Conviction Victims in Canada
Some Canadian wrongful conviction victims: Donald Marshall Jr., James Driskell, David Milgaard, William Mullins-Johnson, Steven Truscott, Kyle Unger

Various wrongful conviction inquiries have been made in the past several decades, many of which have gathered vast media attention. One of the major ones that made headlines around the globe was the wrongful conviction of Steven Truscott. He was sentenced to hanging in 1969, at the age of 14 for a schoolmates murder. After spending several months as Canada’s youngest inmate on death row, his sentence was changed to life imprisonment. After spending almost his entire life in prison the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2007 overturned his conviction declaring the case “a miscarriage of justice that must be quashed”. He was awarded compensation for the mistake but that does not come close to the years of mental and physical anguish he had to endure while imprisoned. This was due to a number of factors, such as police laying down charges too quickly, and completely ignoring other potential suspects. Such as a sexual offender living nearby, and an electrician with a rape conviction; both were ignored by police, the obvious question being, why was this?(CBC, June 7/08).
Another interesting inquiry was made into the case of Donald Marshall Jr. where he was convicted of murdering his friend. It gives an example where police officers conceived a predetermined notion that he was the killer. Since he was already known to police they focused the investigation onto him. After his sentence had been overturned an inquiry commission determined that “systemic racism had contributed to his conviction”(CBC, Oct 14/10). Margaret Beare mentioned in her article that race was a prominent factor in many of the wrongful conviction cases in Canada; but even when the race factor was absent, the individuals were stereotyped by police and deemed to be weird or unordinary. She gives the example of Guy Paul Morin who was a beekeeper, a musician, and a gardener, and the police paid particular attention to him because of these “unusual” characteristics.

Just recently a man has filed a lawsuit against the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench last month in regards to a wrongful conviction sentence he served of 14 years. Kyle Unger was convicted in a murder of a teenage girl, but after serving part of his sentence, his charges were withdrawn thanks once again to there being no DNA evidence linking him to the crime(CBC, Sept 27/11).

Some Causes of Wrongful Convictions
Chart From: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/741032/posts

Many issues have arisen stemming from the research conducted into the topic of wrongful convictions. Numerous scholars have claimed that there are many factors that are important which when combined together, can lead to a wrongful conviction. One of main factors that lead can lead to a wrongful conviction is mistaken identity, whereas the identity of an individual is mistaken as being the suspect. This can come from a number of different avenues, a witness may just want to help “solve” a crime, and point out an individual that had similarities between the suspect they saw and the individual standing before them in a police line-up. The police will then just “run with it” and focus their attention on getting the conviction without thinking about the error of eye-witnesses.

Another key factor in wrongful convictions is expert testimony; experts come into our judicial system to provide their opinion on a matter, well as history has shown, at times their opinion is wrong. For example with the William Mullins-Johnson case an expert pathologist was called in to testify. Charles Randal Smith was an expert pathologist that testified and played a major role in determining the time of death of the victim and whether she had been sexually assaulted or not. Eleven years after the initial trial it was determined by three other pathologists, that there was no evidence that the girl had been sexually assaulted, and Mr. Mullins-Johnson was acquitted.

An interesting study by Garrett & Neufield, Invalid Forensic Science Testimony and Wrongful Convictions claims that of the 82 cases or 60% of the bulk of trials looked at in regards to testimony by 72 forensic analysts called by the prosecution, were invalid. Also noting that defense counsel rarely obtains experts of their own and fails to cross-examine the “experts” brought in by the crown. This leads me to an earlier point made by Beare “that justice is a game that you wrap to fit your preference, or your unconscious biases. Therefore “shop around” and select evidence, experts, and judges based on your specific agenda.” I understand that humans make mistakes, we all do it, but when an individual’s life is in jeopardy; the criminal justice system should do more in order to confirm these opinion statements given in court, not just rely on them because they were given by experts.

Hundreds of cases of wrongful convictions have surfaced in North America alone over the past several decades, thanks to an increase in new technology, more and more individuals are being released from their prisons due to various inquires being conducted. Unfortunately these inquires should not have been necessary in order to allow free individuals to enjoy their liberties and not have been made to face the conditions they did. Several factors including police misconduct, systemic racism, tunnel vision, erroneous eye witness testimony as well as incorrect expert testimony have all lead to wrongful convictions over the last several decades. The question arises, what can we as a society to do help combat wrongful convictions? Can we do anything in regards to police training, and ensuring expert testimony is credible or are these issues going to remain regardless?

References

Beare, M. (2008). “Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop”, in M. Beare (ed.) Honouring Social Justice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press: 17-54.

Punch, M. (2009). Police corruption: deviance, accountability and reform in policing. UK: Willan Publishing.

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.

Referenced:
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.

Wrongful convictions have been a part of the Canadian criminal justice system for decades. Yet very few criminologists or legal scholars have been looking into the topic. We have only recently begun looking at previous criminal convictions which may have been the result of a wrongful conviction. A situation where an individual is found to be legally guilty of a crime he or she did not commit; and the actual perpetrator is out free in the world. For a variety of reasons a person may be wrongfully convicted of a crime he or she did not commit, and the only way to prove his or her innocence is in a court of law. 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 as: “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”(2008, p.21). Put differently, tunnel vision is the presumption that an individual suspect is guilty at an early stage of the investigation and proceeding with that focus firmly in mind. But Beare and her colleagues have determined that while tunnel vision is definitely a factor in wrongful convictions, it is the end result. A variety of other factors including faulty investigatory procedures, police deviance and corruption, and systemic, structural, and individual factors, all play a huge role in adding up to the final step, of tunnel vision. Various inquiries have been held to determine the root causes of these wrongful convictions but the recommendations stemming from these extremely time-consuming follow ups are not being followed or understood, and more wrongful convictions are occurring. These recommendations are not being understood by the police officers, and more importantly the individual police agencies are failing to accept this guidance. They are not doing enough in regards to re-training of officers or training of new ones in order to help combat this problem.

An interesting theme that is apparent to the broader literature is the use of DNA testing to exonerate hundreds of wrongfully convicted individuals. A majority of wrongful conviction articles look at cases in the United States of America; this is not surprising in the sense that the U.S. has a much larger criminal justice system in comparison to its neighbor, Canada. Also Leo and Gould give other factors in wrongful convictions, included in their article Studying Wrongful Convictions: Learning from Social Science, which are “eyewitness misidentifications, false confessions, informant perjury, junk science, tunnel vision, police, and prosecutorial error”(2009, p.18). Many of these are in direct relation to the police. Police deviance has been an ongoing issue for decades now, and lately has become more and more prominent due to the advancements in technology, and the media attention it receives.  Leo and Gould highlight the fact that in the late 1980’s DNA testing is what launched the inquiries into wrongful convictions, and since then more than 230 individuals have been exonerated of their wrongful sentences. We must not forget that there are currently hundreds of applications for inquiries into cases, but due to the lengthy time it takes for the cases to proceed, innocent individuals remain stripped of their liberties and freedoms.

Margaret Beare makes a very interesting point in regards to police officers assuming innocence until proven guilty. When one is working for weeks, months, and in some cases years to prove the guilt of an individual it is extremely difficult for him to build his guilty case by assuming innocence. She points out an apparent theme in many of these wrongful conviction cases to be “that justice is a game that you wrap to fit your preference, 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. Officers wanting to get the guy they “know” to be guilty and forgetting about other possible suspects, which leads to their instincts being false. This has been repeated time and time again in several wrongful convictions such as the case of Donald Marshall Jr.

Beare argues that wrongful convictions are caused by other issues such as systemic problems within the criminal justice system itself. She goes on to say 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). She stresses the fact that just saying it is a systemic problem does not cure the fact that it continues to go on. In relation to this I have noticed that many of the articles published make various realizations such as, this is a problem with the criminal justice system, or a structural problem within a specific organization, but they make no suggestions in regards to solving these issues. We must ask ourselves how big of an actual problem is this, that it is taking this long to solve? Agreeing with Bears belief, Punch suggests that police corruption and deviance should be looked at through a systemic viewpoint, and many instances of deviance are due to organizational problems.

The idea of noble cause corruption is also something to ponder in the sense that 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). According to Maurice Punch in his text Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability and reform in policing, noble cause as an officer doing what he had to do in order to “get a result, achieve convictions and see justice done.”(2009, p.107). Many officers work on cases and investigations for months at a time only to be left with the uncertainty of whether the suspect will get convicted. Many officers take it upon themselves to ensure that ‘justice is served’, and feel that they are doing it for the good of the community and in some cases, the country.

Wrongful conviction victims: Donald Marshall Jr., James Driskell, David Milgaard, William Mullins-Johnson, Steven Truscott, Kyle UngerSome Canadian wrongful conviction victims: Donald Marshall Jr., James Driskell, David Milgaard, William Mullins-Johnson, Steven Truscott, Kyle Unger

Various wrongful conviction inquiries have been made in the past several decades, many of which have gathered vast media attention. One of the major ones that made headlines around the globe was the wrongful conviction of Steven Truscott. He was sentenced to hanging in 1969, at the age of 14 for a schoolmates murder. After spending several months as Canada’s youngest inmate on death row, his sentence was changed to life imprisonment. After spending almost his entire life in prison the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2007 overturned his conviction declaring the case “a miscarriage of justice that must be quashed”. He was awarded compensation for the mistake but that does not come close to the years of mental and physical anguish he had to endure while imprisoned. This was due to a number of factors, such as police laying down charges too quickly, and completely ignoring other potential suspects. Such as a sexual offender living nearby, and an electrician with a rape conviction; both were ignored by police, the obvious question being, why was this?(CBC, June 7/08).

Another interesting inquiry was made into the case of Donald Marshall Jr. where he was convicted of murdering his friend. It gives an example where police officers conceived a predetermined notion that he was the killer. Since he was already known to police they focused the investigation onto him. After his sentence had been overturned an inquiry commission determined that “systemic racism had contributed to his conviction”(CBC, Oct 14/10). Margaret Beare mentioned in her article that race was a prominent factor in many of the wrongful conviction cases in Canada; but even when the race factor was absent, the individuals were stereotyped by police and deemed to be weird or unordinary. She gives the example of Guy Paul Morin who was a beekeeper, a musician, and a gardener, and the police paid particular attention to him because of these “unusual” characteristics.

Just recently a man has filed a lawsuit against the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench last month in regards to a wrongful conviction sentence he served of 14 years. Kyle Unger was convicted in a murder of a teenage girl, but after serving part of his sentence, his charges were withdrawn thanks once again to there being no DNA evidence linking him to the crime(CBC, Sept 27/11).

Hundreds of cases of wrongful convictions have surfaced in North America alone over the past several decades, thanks to an increase in new technology, more and more individuals are being released from their prisons due to various inquires being conducted. Unfortunately these inquires should not have been necessary in order to allow free individuals to enjoy their liberties and not have been made to face the conditions they did.

Referenced:
Beare, M. (2008). “Shouting Innocence from the Highest Rooftop”, in M. Beare (ed.) Honouring Social Justice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press: 17-54.

Punch, M. (2009). Police corruption: deviance, accountability and reform in policing. UK: Willan Publishing.