Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Truth versus conviction

Rubin Carter, Special to the Sun
Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What this article reveals is all the stuff that was not allowed to be heard in court. I recall this case very clearly and certainly at the time it never occurred to me that someone else might have committed this crime. But then the lack of evidence connecting them to the scene - but connecting three others still unidentified - was not heard in court. Nor mentioned of course in the press reports.

There is a long established tradition in our system that says the police much catch someone and get them convicted for serious crimes. The faster that happens and the more severe the sentence the happier we are. And we are now learning, thanks to improving forensic science, but also often to the subsequent revelations of evidence deliberately suppressed that the convictions are often, in a term used only in British courts, "unsafe".

In the US the burden of proof in appeal cases shifts. There is no presumption of innocence any more because the court case is taken as establishing guilt - of course. But in this case, the "evidence" from the RCMP's favourite sting technique would not have been admissible if it had been used in the state where the crime was committed. An odd sort of double standard.

And to the shame of Canadians, our police forces - but mostly the now utterly discredited, taser happy, mounties - have a long record of false convictions. Guy Paul Morin. David Milgaard, Donald Marshall and many others.

At least at that time these two were convicted, Canada was determined not to have its citizens extradited to face the death penalty so there is some chance the mistake can be rectified. Not something that Stephen Harper wants to see, so he has ended that practice - without consulting anyone of course.

I wonder when police training will start emphasizing that the need to convict someone is not the purpose of an investigation, but rather to establish the truth of what happened. Which means that coerced confessions and evidence suppression have no place in jurisprudence - anywhere. Indeed, I find it appalling that I have to write that down and publish it. It seems to me to be a fundamental principle that no-one should feel comfortable arguing against.

"For it is better that a guilty man go free, than an innocent man go to prison"

UPDATE March 26 Ian Mulgrew isn't buying it - and points to the evidence of a friend of the accused who was offered immunity for his damning testimony

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