"I Didn't Do It": How Often, and Why, Do We Send Innocent People to Jail?

By Freiman, Mark J. | Literary Review of Canada, November 2011 | Go to article overview

"I Didn't Do It": How Often, and Why, Do We Send Innocent People to Jail?


Freiman, Mark J., Literary Review of Canada


Justice Miscarried: Inside Wrongful Convictions in Canada

Helena Katz

Dundum

228 pages, softcover

ISBN 9781554888740

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

All systems are prone to error and our justice system is no exception.

At one pole, errors in the justice system manifest themselves in "wrongful acquittals," with perpetrators, although duly apprehended and brought before a court, escaping punishment for their crimes.

We hear a lot about such errors, either real or imagined, especially when high-profile cases founder, often because of what are described as technicalities, and a hue and cry goes up for reform of our justice system in the name of law and order.

At the other pole, errors in the justice system manifest themselves as wrongful convictions, with innocent men and women sent to prison to pay for crimes they did not commit. We may hear less about these sorts of errors because they tend to come to light only years after the original convictions and the convictions themselves may generate little or no publicity at the time. When they do come to light, however, they too arouse strong emotions.

Different societies weigh these errors differently. "Blackstone's ratio" encapsulates the traditional English view of the matter with the aphorism, "Better that ten guilty persons escape rather than one innocent suffer" Benjamin Franklin upped the ratio to one hundred guilty to one innocent. Reflecting his authoritarian approach (one arguably reflected more recently in elements of the Bush administration's tactics in its "war on terror"), Bismarck reportedly countered that it is better that ten innocent men suffer than that one guilty man escape.

Canada's criminal justice system clearly reflects the Blackstone view, with the burden imposed on our prosecutors to prove guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt" intended to prohibit conviction of even the "probably guilty."

Yet wrongful convictions have still persisted.

In Justice Miscarried: Inside Wrongful Convictions in Canada, Helena Katz tells the story of a dozen wrongful convictions in Canada spanning the last three decades of the 20th century. She recounts the efforts, notably by the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted, to expose these miscarriages of justice, to exonerate the innocent men (there are no women's stories in the book) and to provide some restitution for what they have suffered.

The stories are poignant and provide useful reminders of the terrible human cost when justice miscarries in this way. David Milgaard spent 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit and that even the relatively primitive forensic tools available at the time suggested that he could not have committed. Although innocent, he escaped from custody and was shot in the back during this apprehension by the RCMP.

Donald Marshall was imprisoned for over a decade, largely because of racist assumptions by the police investigating his case. During that wasted decade, he suffered serious physical impairment because of poor medical treatment.

Ronald Dalton spent ten years in prison because the police and Crown convinced themselves and a judge that Dalton had strangled his wife, when in fact the evidence should have been clear that she had choked on cereal.

Michel Dumont spent six years in prison based on inaccurate eyewitness testimony, despite the attempts of the eyewitness to recant her erroneous identification.

William Mullins-Johnson spent over a decade in prison convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering his niece, based on a wildly inaccurate interpretation of the little girl's autopsy by forensic pathologists apparently unfamiliar with elementary principles of children's anatomy, probably supplemented by prejudice generated by the fact that he was aboriginal. In fact, the child had died of natural causes, but for the decade of his incarceration, Mullins-Johnson was treated by his jailers and his fellow inmates as a homicidal child molester. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

"I Didn't Do It": How Often, and Why, Do We Send Innocent People to Jail?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.