Plea bargains have corrupted the justice system by creating fictional crimes in the place of real ones. Having people admit to what did not happen to avoid charges for what did happen creates a legal culture that elevates fiction over truth. False confession and self-incrimination replace the criminal trial. Plea-bargaining is a major cause of wrongful conviction as it undermines police investigative work, because when few cases make it to trial, police learn that their evidence is seldom tested in the courtroom.
Carelessness creeps in, while sloppy investigations reduce the likelihood of apprehending the real guilty party. Prosecutors have found that they can coerce a plea and elevate their conviction rate by raising the number and seriousness of the charges they throw at the accused. Defense council also plays a coercive role when advising defendants that conviction at trial to a charge can carry more punishment than a plea to a lesser charge. The sentencing differential alone is enough to make plea-bargaining coercive.
While conservatives may complain that plea-bargaining permits criminals to get off with a slap on the wrist, the real anxiety should stem from the potential that the person going to jail is innocent, the real perpetrator is prowling the streets and the administration of justice has been put into disrepute. Once again referring back to Guy Paul Morin, investigative carelessness didn't creep in, it blundered through like a bull in a china shop. The search of the body site can only be described as a fiasco.
These rural police officers, obviously limited in their experience with homicide cases, employed shoddy and primitive investigative techniques, neglected to secure the crime scene and cover it to maintain valuable forensic evidence, which certainly raised serious questions regarding their reliability throughout the entire police investigation. The decision to grant bail is a significant factor in processing a criminal case. Defendants who are denied bail lack access to resources necessary to prepare for their defense.
People who are marginalized in society are less likely to be granted bail. This has negative consequences at the trial stage, where the jury and the judge may hold bias against an accused brought out in handcuffs, in contrast to the sharp suited, well-represented white-collar defendant. Modern technology is proving what scientists, psychologists and legal scholars have noted for years, eyewitness identification is often faulty and a major cause of wrongful convictions.
Identifications are even more problematic when they are based on observations made under stress or in less ideal conditions (i. e. in darkness or from a distance). Cross-racial identifications have been shown to be especially unreliable. Studies indicate that people who have had little or no contact with those of another race are significantly less capable of distinguishing subtleties in facial characteristics of those of a different race during a line-up procedure.
Further complicating matters is the administration of identification procedures by an investigating officer who 'knows' who the suspect is in the line-up. This already subjective procedure is then in danger of being tainted by verbal or visual cues given to identifying witnesses, whether consciously or by accident. Front-line prosecutors have wide powers especially given administrative realities and the tradition of a prosecutor as an independent 'minister of justice' with largely unfettered discretion as to how and whom to charge.
Ideally prosecutorial behavior is regulated by conscience and commitment to serving justice by finding the truth through a fair trial. There was once a time when a prosecutor who admitted perjured testimony or withheld exculpatory evidence in order to win a case was regarded as a shameful embarrassment to the law. However crowded courtrooms, bureaucracy, budgetary pressures and careerism have contributed to elevating ambition above justice.
The emergence of moral causes or the 'ends justify the means' mentality has contributed to the breakdown of prosecutorial constraint. This has resulted in numerous instances of prosecutorial misconduct ranging from fabricating, tampering or suppressing evidence, making false statements to the jury, participating in cover-ups, distorting facts, using improper scare tactics during closing arguments, manipulating and employing unreliable and untruthful witnesses to a new practice known as 'jumping on the bus', which has taken the prosecutorial ethic to rock bottom depth.
This is where prosecutors (or other agents of the justice system) feed information about unsolved cases to an inmate, have them memorize the case, so when they come forward with information in exchange for a reduced sentence it appears that they have inside knowledge of the case and are merely trying to assist in the investigation. Given the prominent role that a prosecutor plays in the administration of justice, overzealous and deceitful prosecutorial practices inevitably foster wrongful convictions.
In the case of Guy Paul Morin, the prosecutors 'lost', reworked or withheld evidence from the defense and used devious tactics to make it appear like the jail house informants were testifying against Morin because it was their civic duty. Both of these choices significantly contributed to Morin's wrongful conviction. Ineffective or incompetent defense counsel has allowed offenders to be convicted of crimes who might otherwise have been proven innocent at trial.
Failure to investigate, failure to call witnesses, inability to prepare for trial due to caseload or incompetence, failure to file an appeal are only are few examples of poor lawyering. The shrinking funding and access to resources for public defenders and court appointed attorneys is only exacerbating the problem. Inability to secure adequate defense counsel is a problem that disproportionately affects those from low socio-economic status backgrounds. This introduces an element of inequality into the criminal justice system where the rich get off and the poor get prison.
Defense counsel for Guy Paul Morin in his first trial was overly concerned with trying to employ an insanity defense that he failed to conduct an adequate investigation of his own. While, defense counsel for his second trial uncovered evidence that pointed to Morin's innocence, this was rather late in the game. 13 The use of jailhouse informants, especially in return for deals, special treatment, or the dropping of charges, has proven to be a misleading form of evidence, as has testimony that has only appeared after rewards were offered.
Often, the testimony of these snitches has been the key in sending an innocent man or woman to prison for a crime he or she did not commit. False testimony by witnesses with incentives is the second most prevalent factor in wrongful convictions in U. S. capital cases and a leading factor in the wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin. The police and prosecution made deals with an admitted chronic liar and felon Robert May and his accomplice Mr. X to testify that Morin had admitted to the killing, in exchange for a lesser sentence.
14 As finders of fact in the trial, the ultimate determination of truth is up to the jury who are often given blinders to put on in the form of junk science. This includes experts testifying about tests that were never conducted, suppression of exculpatory results of testing, inadequate autopsies, falsified results, falsified credentials, misinterpretation of test results, and statistical exaggeration. We must ask ourselves, are labs and expert testimony tools of the prosecution, or of justice?
Certainly, crime labs are thought to be an impartial, scientific means of finding the truth. But the reality is that most exist in a prosecutorial milieu, as branches of the department of justice or the police. Closely tying the forensic scientist to the prosecutorial apparatus may increase the likelihood of junk or scandalous science. Scientists may feel that in order to get promoted they need to provide the evidence that makes a conviction, morphing into what has been termed 'cops in lab coats'.
Junk science has played a role in numerous wrongful convictions including that of Guy Paul Morin. The lack of skill displayed by so-called 'experts' conducting the first autopsy, produced results that were incorrect and misleading in the extreme. Stephanie Nysynk, the laboratory worker who analyzed the forensic evidence claimed that a hair found on Christine's clothes matched hair found in Morin's car, even though hair analysis is not perfect science, whereas a forensic expert can never honestly say that two hairs are a match.
When asked to produce the hairs for the defense for a corroborating expert analysis, Nysynk claimed that she lost 150 slides of hair and fiber samples, along with the most relevant lab sheets. 15 It is obvious that this evidence wasn't simply 'lost' for lack of purposeful reason. Judges are at the pinnacle of the judicial system and their job is to oversee the trial process and determine the sentence for those convicted of a crime.
It is the responsibility of the judge to guarantee that all parties involved in a trial act according to the proscribed rules, assuring a fair and impartial hearing for the accused. However, they also have the very important task of maintaining public confidence in the judicial system, emphasizing its legitimacy. There have been numerous occasions when the judiciary has acted to preserve the reputations of police officers, prosecutors, expert witnesses or others acting on behalf of the crown when their reputation or the system is called into question.
The possibility therefore exists that a judge may unintentionally or maliciously conduct a trial or instruct the jury in a way that is prejudicial to the accused, if he or she perceives that to do otherwise would somehow jeopardize the integrity of the judicial system. Unfortunately this protective mechanism has potential to backfire and foster a wrongful conviction. This was certainly the case for Guy Paul Morin. In the second trial, Judge Donnelly's demeanor and his charges to the jury had a tremendous impact on the juries decision to find Morin guilty as charged.
The jury had come to respect Judge Donnelly as a fair and wise man and therefore his actions and comments did not fall upon blind eyes nor deaf ears. His favor towards the crowns forensic experts and witnesses, dismissal of the defense's expert testimony that suggested that Robert May was an egocentric liar, and statement regarding the possibility that Christine never went home after school, the likelihood of which would destroy the very essence of the defense case, were key in bringing the jury to a guilty verdict. 16 This crafted what we might want to call the last nail in Guy Paul Morin's coffin.
The Guy Paul Morin case, perhaps more than any other in Canadian legal history, represents everything that is wrong with our judicial system. 17 Unacceptable choices made by actors at all levels of the justice system culminated in a horrific instance of wrongful conviction. They illuminate the need for immediate refurbishment of a justice system plagued by systemic problems that inevitably foster unjust convictions. The Association In Defense of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) is a Canadian public interest organization dedicated to preventing and rectifying wrongful convictions.
Founded in 1993 in response to the wrongful conviction of Guy Paul Morin, the original members organized a voluntary non-profit association with two broad objectives, first, to reduce the likelihood of future miscarriages of justice and, second, to review and, where warranted, attempt to overturn wrongful convictions. This organization works in partnership with other vital initiatives such as The Innocence Project at Osgoode Hall Law School, to put an end to wrongful convictions. What this will require is fundamental changes to current justice policies and practices.
First and foremost, justice system actors must be held accountable for their indiscretions. If the costs of making inappropriate decisions are high, justice officials will be more likely to judge their actions accordingly and less likely to use their positions of authority for injustice. By forcing the actions of justice officials into the light, they will have no choice but to feel that their choices will carry real consequences. This will genuinely make them think twice before usurping justice.