Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Back in action. Catch-up (17); Leighton Hay; Glen Assoun; Frank Ostrowski; (Canada); Lawyer Jonathan Rosenthal says these wrongful convictions (revealed in one recent week) expose troubling holes in Canada's justice system - and asks where were the advances in forensic science that were supposed to have eliminated the problem. The Toronto Star. (Must Read. HL);

COMMENTARY: "Wrongful convictions expose troubling holes in justice system," by Jonathan Rosenthal. published by the Toronto Star on December 18, 2014.  (Jonathan Rosenthal is a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer and a professor adjunct at Osgoode Hall law school. He is also a vice president of the Ontario Criminal Lawyers Association.)

SUB-HEADING: "Last month, three cases of wrongful murder convictions were uncovered in one week, raising disturbing questions abotu our justice system."

PHOTO CAPTION: "Leighton Hay walks out of a court house in Toronto, on Friday, Nov. 28, 2014. Hay was wrongfully convicted of first-degree murder more than a decade ago and last months took his first steps as a free man after the Crown withdrew the charge against him."

GIST: "A series of milestone developments in three wrongful murder conviction cases in one week last month is likely to have provoked as much astonishment as horror. Three in a single week? Weren't wrongful convictions supposed to be a historical aberration, akin to aboriginal residential schools, that have been methodically cleared up? Have not advances in forensic science, the stuff of countless television crime series, eliminated the problem? Did the justice system not learn lasting lessons about the perils of tunnel vision, faulty eyewitness testimony, junk science and police deception? If so, try telling that to Leighton Hay, Glen Assoun, Frank Ostrowski and the dozens of other prisoners whose cases are under investigation by a growing phalanx of underfunded defence counsel." In the wake of Hay's murder exoneration and the likelihood that Ostrowski and Assoun are well on the way to seeing their innocence restored, it is time to challenge a disturbing complacency that has crept into the social conversation about miscarriages of justice. If anything, the need for skepticism and oversight has become all the more urgent.".........In an age where science is increasingly looked to as the gold standard of evidence, troubling realities have come to light that should give us all pause. Chief amongst them is a sense that science is an impregnable forensic force that leaves little room for doubt. In fact, faulty lab analysis, contaminated samples and technician error figure prominently in one recent wrongful conviction after another. Eyewitness testimony has also been increasingly exposed as a singularly unreliable form of evidence which should always be corroborated by other evidence. Likewise, research on the effects of police tactics and compulsion has given new-found credence to the notion that people do genuinely confess to crimes they did not commit......... Typically, it takes at least five years for a defendant to exhaust his appeals and for new lawyers to re-investigate and then engage horrendously time-consuming legal mechanisms that can lead to an exoneration. Cash strapped legal aid budgets tend to be of little help. AIDWYC, an organization supported wholly by grants and individual donations, has a core group of about 50 defence lawyers who supply the equivalent of $3.5-million annually in legal work. Payments for private investigators and forensic testing challenge its slender budget. Law schools and the Criminal Lawyers Association supply aid and the support of their membership. Still, it is not enough. The battle to expose wrongful convictions keeps expanding. The rate of pleas for help — some admittedly lacking in merit, others very troubling — continues to increase. Every day of every year, in cases both big and small, the stage is set for a wrongful conviction. To believe otherwise is to perpetuate a cycle of devastating legal error."

The entire commentary can be found at:


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