Wrongful Convictions in Canada
153678 (Student Number)
Dr. Bahareh Assadi (Instructor Name)
November 20, 2012
Wrongful Convictions in Canada
One of the most controversial issues existing in the Criminal Justice System is the concept of wrongful convictions. The problem is that occasionally innocent accused persons are convicted of crimes that they have not committed resulting in unfair prison sentences. Criminologists in Canada are exploring the causes and consequences of wrongful convictions in an effort to find preventative measures to stop this disturbing glitch within the Canadian criminal justice system. Research suggested that although wrongful convictions were rare in the past, “more recent estimates of the frequency of such miscarriages range from very few cases each year to 20 percent of all convictions” (Roberts & Grossman, 2012, p.253). Wrongful convictions occur when an individual has been arrested on criminal charges and is waiting for a plea or verdict but is in fact innocent (Robert & Grossman, 2012). Survey of Canadian criminal defence lawyers found “that 46.3% of this sample believe that they had represented a client who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to at least one year in prison” (Ricciardelli, Bell & Clow, 2009, p.413).
Reasons for Wrongful Convictions
Research suggests that wrongful convictions are not the result of one individual making a mistake, rather “several individual or systematic factors, alone or in concert, contribute to wrongful convictions” (Roberts & Grossman, 2012, p.253). Factors that contribute to wrongful convictions include eye “witness error, erroneous forensic science, false confessions, the use of jailhouse informants, professional and institutional misconduct, and racial bias” (Roberts & Grossman, 2012, p.253). Other factors that lead to wrongful convictions include ineffective defence counsel, police tunnel vision, perjury, and police misconduct. Lastly, research suggest that other factors such as racial prejudice, social inequality, and class bias increase the likelihood
that minorities and those who are socially and economically disadvantaged will be victims of wrongful convictions (Ricciardelli, Bell & Clow, 2009). Government officials argue that since the criminal trial process always involves a multitude of human variables for all participants, it is difficult sometimes to prevent a wrongful conviction. Nonetheless, criminologists argue that “the identification of specific problems and the implementation of practices designed to ensure fairness and accountability will result in the optimal utilization of science and expertise in the search for justice” (Jeffrey, 2006, p.299).
The Canadian Criminal Justice System
In Canada, the Criminal Code “gives the federal Minister of Justice the power to review a conviction under federal law to determine whether there may be have been a miscarriage of justice, or what is often called a wrongful conviction” (Scullion, 2004, p.190). If the Minister identifies that a miscarriage of justice has likely to have occurred, he has the authority to order a new trial or refer the matter to the Court of Appeal. The Minister is not responsible for deciding whether a convicted person is guilty or not, rather, that role is assigned to the Court of Appeal. One of the criticisms of the review process is that it places the onus on the applicant to demonstrate that a miscarriage has occurred with the system. In addition, the cost associated with filling an application to the minister is often out of reach for most applicants (Scullion, 2004). Lastly, the criminal conviction review process lacks independence because “one government department is reviewing another government department, the review process contains an apparent conflict of interest” (Scullion, 2004, p.194). Critics of this system argue that the review process is both lengthy and costly for the accused.