Unit 8 Writing Assignment
October 19, 2010
The legitimacy of the criminal justice system is based largely upon both its effectiveness and its fairness. Its effectiveness is judged by its ability to investigate and detect crime, identify offenders and mete out the appropriate sanctions to those who have been convicted of offences. Its fairness is judged by its thoroughness and the efforts it makes to redress the resource imbalance between the accused and the state at the investigatory, pre-trial, trial and appellate stages. The system does this by providing evidentiary protection and effective legal representation at all points. Wrongful convictions undermine the two prongs of the criminal justice system’s legitimacy. If someone is wrongfully convicted, that person is punished for an offence he or she did not commit and the actual perpetrator of the crime goes free. As well, public confidence in the system declines when wrongful convictions are identified. The criminal justice system is based on the fundamental legal value that an accused is legally presumed to be innocent, until adjudication after a trial. This is in contradiction with the public expectation that most of those charged with criminal offences are, and will be found to be, guilty. Wrongful convictions undermine both this fundamental legal value and this public expectation since they show that the presumption of innocence may be honoured in its breach and that the criminal justice system does not only deal with the guilty. Public attention has in recent years been brought to the issue of wrongful convictions by the Donald Marshall case in Canada and the Rubin "Hurricane" Carter case in the United States. There are probably fewer truly wrongful convictions than claimed, but there may still be a surprising number. It has been claimed that in Great Britain, the wrongful conviction rate may...