I Didn’t Do It: Is There Justice for the Wrongfully Convicted?

_DSC4851My sense of justice really comes unglued when I read about another poor schlep who has spent years in prison for a crime he or she did not commit.

One of the most recent is Romeo Phillion, now 74-years-old, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering Ottawa firefighter, Leopold Roy in 1967. Mr. Phillion spent 31 years behind bars, mainly because of his initial false confession, quickly recanted, which resulted in a plea deal, and the despicable suppression of crucial evidence by the Crown, that would have exculpated Mr. Phillion.

Nothing really important…just uncontroverted evidence known by the Crown, that Romeo Phillion was two hundred kilometres away from the murder scene. You mean he was somewhere else? Yes, that’s right. You mean the real killer is still at large? Yes, again, that’s correct.

It’s a tie as to which family should feel more aggrieved, Mr. Roy’s or Mr. Phillion’s.

While I am a law and order defender, what really galls me is the lack of remorse of police and prosecutors in botched criminal cases. In Mr. Phillion’s case, retired Superintendent John McCombie said “Everything I did, I did according to the law”, also noting that he was “surprised and disappointed”, presumably because Mr. Phillion was set free. The level of arrogance is astounding.

Even with this evidence and Mr. Phillion’s release from prison in 2003, the Crown insisted that he be retried, maintaining this position until 2009 when all charges were dropped. In May 2012 Mr. Phillion filed a $14 million dollar lawsuit, which no doubt will be vigorously opposed by the Crown.

Quebecer Rejean Hinse is another victim who never received an apology. Imprisoned in the 1960’s for an armed robbery conviction, he served eight years of a fifteen year sentence. However, justice was still illusory after the Quebec Court of Appeal quashed his conviction because the Crown, in their wisdom, only entered a “stay of proceedings”.

A “stay” puts the case on hold for one year or permanently, but provides no resolution as to guilt or innocence. Clearly not a satisfactory outcome for an innocent accused.

Mr. Hinse was able to take his case to the Supreme Court of Canada where the Court ruled there was insufficient evidence to convict. Despite his acquittal, he had to fight for financial compensation, finally in 2011 receiving $4.5 million in a settlement with the Quebec government and obtaining a judgment against the federal government of $8.6 million. Not surprisingly, the feds are appealing the order that they pay millions in compensation.

The road to a declaration of innocence is long and tortuous. Of course, Canada is not alone in its reluctance to implement a process where the wrongfully convicted can have speedy access to independent review procedures, DNA testing and the like. Criminal justice reformers have recommended an independent committee, outside of the criminal justice system, to address these horrific cases, a plan that is long overdue.

In a recent Illinois case, 50-year-old Andre Davis, who served 32 years in prison for the 1980 rape and murder of three-year-old Brianna Sickler, was exonerated when it was determined that blood and semen at the crime scene was not Davis’. Nonetheless, State Attorney Julia Reitz could not bring herself to admit the unbelievable injustice of Mr. Davis’ wrongful conviction, instead remarking they would not retry Andre Davis because of the age of the case and deceased or missing witnesses.

While it is difficult to find Canadian statistics on the number of wrongfully convicted, the University of Michigan has established a national registry for the United States where they record 891 wrongfully convicted persons between January 1989 and March 2012.. These numbers do not include another 1,170 victims who were exonerated in “group exonerations”, cases where thirteen separate “police scandals” have resulted in overturned convictions.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be tried and convicted at trial, endure an unsuccessful appeal, perhaps even a further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, and then languish in prison for dozens of years, for a crime you didn’t commit.

When Rejean Hinse was asked by the media to describe his time in prison, he showed them a picture of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” to explain the utter despair he suffered. No amount of money can atone for a life in prison.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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Bondage Judge’s Judicial Inquiry High-Jacked By Federal Court and Collapses

BarristerIf the Canadian Judicial Council Inquiry Committee reviewing Madam Justice Lori Douglas’ off-duty behavior is a microcosm of Canada’s justice system, why should anyone be surprised that after years of litigation manoeuvres by Ms. Douglas, the Committee has finally thrown up their hands and walked off the job.

Their frustration with the legal gamesmanship and the resulting delay and expense is a feeling that is shared by millions of Canadians daily, particularly those unfortunate enough to be caught in the morass of family court.

However, when the body that governs superior court judges in Canada cannot move forward and complete their mandate because of the interference of another court, one has well and truly gone down the rabbit hole.

Judge Douglas’ saga began in the Fall of 2010 when her husband, divorce lawyer Jack King’s former client, Alex Chapman, reneged on his 2003 agreement to keep his lips sealed in exchange for a payment of $25,000. His lurid secret was that Mr. King had shared explicit nude photos of his wife, Judge Douglas with him and allegedly attempted to entice him into a sexual relationship with the two of them.

Chapman’s complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council alleging sexual harassment started their investigation which eventually led to a rare public inquiry in May 2012 as to whether she was fit to retain her position as a judge of the superior court in Manitoba.

By the time the hearing got underway, additional allegations tangentially related to the harassment charges came into sharper focus. The investigation revealed that when she applied for her judicial position in 2005 she answered the question “Is there anything in your past that could reflect badly on the office of a judge?” in the negative and “changed” some of her diary entries that related to the Chapman allegations.

Several days into the inquiry, after the evidence of husband Jack King and Mr. Chapman had gone in, it became apparent to Judge Douglas’ lawyer that things were not going well for her and an application to terminate the inquiry based on the legal principle of “a reasonable apprehension of bias” was brought on her behalf. The sole basis for the allegation was that counsel for the Committee aggressively cross-examined two inquiry witnesses.

On July 27, 2012 the Committee rejected her application, whereupon she launched an appeal to the Federal Court and obtained an order from that Court that the Inquiry would be “stayed” or put “on hold” until the Federal Court could rule.

The absurdity of the process in the Federal Court is explained by the Committee in their written REASONS FOR RESIGNATION OF THE INQUIRY COMMITTEE CONCERNING THE HONOURABLE LORI DOUGLAS released on November 20, 2013.

They point out that the orders sought by Judge Douglas in the Federal Court and made by the Court were argued without challenge since the only Respondent in the action is the Attorney-General of Canada who brought their own application to be removed from the Federal Court proceedings. The Court refused to remove them from the proceedings but their lack of enthusiasm was evident when they did not appear in court for the stay hearing, thus turning it into an uncontested application, also known as a “slam-dunk”.

The learned justices of the Committee also lament that crucial issues such as the Federal Court’s jurisdiction to usurp the Inquiry’s authority were never addressed and recognize that it may be several more years before the Federal Court completes its review, including the inevitable appeals that will follow.

Finally, the Committee affirms their belief that the inquiry process under the Judges Act must not be high-jacked by “unlimited steps and interlocutory privileges…at public expense”…with the goal of defeating the “wider public purpose that must be served by the judicial conduct process.”

The Inquiry Committee’s resignation is regrettably a necessary, but embarrassing step in a circus that has played out far too long. When will Lori Douglas follow their lead and tender her resignation?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

I Didn’t Do It: Is There Justice For the Wrongfully Convicted?

My sense of justice really comes unglued when I read about another poor schlep who has spent years in prison for a crime he or she did not commit.

One of the most recent is Romeo Phillion, now 74-years-old, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering Ottawa firefighter, Leopold Roy in 1967. Mr. Phillion spent 31 years behind bars, mainly because of his initial false confession, quickly recanted, which resulted in a plea deal, and the despicable suppression of crucial evidence by the Crown, that would have exculpated Mr. Phillion.

Nothing really important…just uncontroverted evidence known by the Crown, that Romeo Phillion was two hundred kilometres away from the murder scene. You mean he was somewhere else? Yes, that’s right. You mean the real killer is still at large? Yes, again, that’s correct.

It’s a tie as to which family should feel more aggrieved, Mr. Roy’s or Mr. Phillion’s.

While I am a law and order defender, what really galls me is the lack of remorse of police and prosecutors in botched criminal cases. In Mr. Phillion’s case, retired Superintendent John McCombie said “Everything I did, I did according to the law”, also noting that he was “surprised and disappointed”, presumably because Mr. Phillion was set free. The level of arrogance is astounding.

Even with this evidence and Mr. Phillion’s release from prison in 2003, the Crown insisted that he be retried, maintaining this position until 2009 when all charges were dropped. In May 2012 Mr. Phillion filed a $14 million dollar lawsuit, which no doubt will be vigorously opposed by the Crown.

Quebecer Rejean Hinse is another victim who never received an apology. Imprisoned in the 1960’s for an armed robbery conviction, he served eight years of a fifteen year sentence. However, justice was still illusory after the Quebec Court of Appeal quashed his conviction because the Crown, in their wisdom, only entered a “stay of proceedings”.

A “stay” puts the case on hold for one year or permanently, but provides no resolution as to guilt or innocence. Clearly not a satisfactory outcome for an innocent accused.

Mr. Hinse was able to take his case to the Supreme Court of Canada where the Court ruled there was insufficient evidence to convict. Despite his acquittal, he had to fight for financial compensation, finally in 2011 receiving $4.5 million in a settlement with the Quebec government and obtaining a judgment against the federal government of $8.6 million. Not surprisingly, the feds are appealing the order that they pay millions in compensation.

The road to a declaration of innocence is long and tortuous. Of course, Canada is not alone in its reluctance to implement a process where the wrongfully convicted can have speedy access to independent review procedures, DNA testing and the like. Criminal justice reformers have recommended an independent committee, outside of the criminal justice system, to address these horrific cases, a plan that is long overdue.

In a recent Illinois case, 50-year-old Andre Davis, who served 32 years in prison for the 1980 rape and murder of three-year-old Brianna Sickler, was exonerated when it was determined that blood and semen at the crime scene was not Davis’. Nonetheless, State Attorney Julia Reitz could not bring herself to admit the unbelievable injustice of Mr. Davis’ wrongful conviction, instead remarking they would not retry Andre Davis because of the age of the case and deceased or missing witnesses.

While it is difficult to find Canadian statistics on the number of wrongfully convicted, the University of Michigan has established a national registry for the United States where they record 891 wrongfully convicted persons between January 1989 and March 2012.. These numbers do not include another 1,170 victims who were exonerated in “group exonerations”, cases where thirteen separate “police scandals” have resulted in overturned convictions.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be tried and convicted at trial, endure an unsuccessful appeal, perhaps even a further appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, and then languish in prison for dozens of years, for a crime you didn’t commit.

When Rejean Hinse was asked by the media to describe his time in prison, he showed them a picture of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” to explain the utter despair he suffered. No amount of money can atone for a life in prison.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang