The criminal justice system is best described as a search for the truth, however, the more precise definition of it states that it is the system of law enforcement, the bar, the judiciary, corrections, and probation that is directly involved in the apprehension, prosecution, defence, sentencing, incarceration, and supervision of those suspected of or charged with criminal offences (dictionary.com). As the justice system is handled by humans, it is bound to make mistakes and such errors lead to circumstances in which an innocent is found guilty; this is called a miscarriage of justice. Miscarriage of justice means the failure of a judicial system or court in the administration of justice, especially when an innocent is convicted of a crime (dictionary.com). 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. There are several elements that cause a miscarriage of justice, such as non-disclosure of evidence by police or prosecution, confirmation bias on the part of investigators, fabrication of evidence, poor identification, and unreliable confessions due to police pressure or psychological instability. They are all considered unjust as they violate the principle of justice. Such a scenario is the David Milgaard case where the principles of justice were violated.
David Milgaard, born in 1954 is a Canadian who was wrongfully convicted for the murder and rape of nursing assistant Gail Miller. In 1969, Milgaard along with two friends, Ron Wilson and Nichol John, decided on a whim to take a road trip across the Canadian prairies, a trip which involved some drug use and petty theft. While the friends were in Saskatoon, a 20-year-old nursing student, Gail Miller was found dead on a snowbank. At the time Milgaard and his friends were stopping to pick up a casual friend Albert Cadrain, whose family was renting out their basement to Larry Fisher, a man later found guilty of the crime. British Columbia police arrested Milgaard in May of 1969 and sent him back to Saskatchewan where he was charged with Miller’s murder. Milgaard was sentenced to life in prison, on January 31, 1970, at the age of 16, exactly a year after Miller’s murder (wikipedia.com).
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At the time of the murder, David Milgaard was a hippie and was constantly in trouble. Even before he was a teenager he was getting into trouble. His parents and teachers considered him impulsive; he resisted authority (Regina Leader-Post, 1992, as cited in Anderson & Anderson 1998). He was removed from kindergarten because he was considered to be a negative influence on the other children. When he was thirteen he spent time in a psychiatric centre. The victim, Gail Miller was a 22-year-old nursing assistant living in Saskatoon. She was found in an alleyway between 6:45 and 7:30 am on January 31st 1969. She had been raped, stabbed twelve times and left for dead. The rape was found to have occurred after she died (injusticebuster.com). The police had little evidence; as few clues had been left behind. There had been other attacks in the same area. Authorities tried to suppress the information that linked the Miller rape and murder to the two other assaults (wikipedia.com).
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom is a very important principle of justice as it comes from the Bill of Rights and the English common law is the foundation of both these statutory. Three-section of the Charter were violated in Milgaard’s case. First the violation of section 15(a) which states that every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origins, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability (Alexandrowicz et.al 605). The police failed to find similarities between Gail’s murder and Fisher’s rape. To the police, David was an easy target as he was of a young age and he was not highly considered a good citizen hence this impression was held against him.
Second the violation of 11(d) which states the accused to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal (Alexandrowics et.al 605). Sometime after returning from their short trip to Alberta, Cadrain heard about the $2000 reward for information into Miller’s death. Cadrain went to the police with a version of what happened that night, although he had been questioned earlier and had no information to give at that time. This is what made Milgaard a suspect in the case (injusticebusters.com). From then on the police concentrated their efforts on finding evidence implicating Milgaard.
Both Ron and Nichol were also called to testify against him. They had originally told police that they had been with Milgaard the entire day and that they believed him to be innocent, but they changed their stories for the court. Ron later recanted his testimony claiming that he had been told he was personally under suspicion and wanted to alleviate the pressure on him (injusticebusters.com). Therefore the police possessed a “tunnel vision” throughout their investigations. When the police possess tunnel vision, they tend to have an extremely narrow point of view, which is not generally advised. Lastly the violation of Section 7; which states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. David’s right to liberty was taken away from him unfairly without sufficient evidence.
The other imperative element of the principle of justice is reasonable doubt which is the level of certainty a juror must have to find a defendant guilty of a crime (dictionary.com). There were questions about timing because if David Milgaard had done the crime, he would have had 10 to 20 minutes to find Gail Miller, rape and murder her and to get out of the neighbourhood (injusticebusters.com). This is not considered sufficient time to carry out the actions mentioned above.
Furthermore, the witnesses were not credible, Wilson has previously told the inquiry he was “a mess” from using LSD, speed and hashish in 1969 and 1970 (injusticebusters.com). His mind was often fuzzy. The Police manipulated him by asking suggestive questions and giving him the impression that he might be blamed for the murder if Milgaard were not (injusticebusters.com). Such information would have led to the judge warning the jury to weigh Wilson’s evidence carefully. This is because he might have a selfish reason for speaking against Milgaard. Moreover, the other witness, who admitted he was mostly interested in the $2000 reward for information.
Cadrain testified that he had seen Milgaard return the night of Miller’s murder in blood-stained clothing, and claimed that the teenage Milgaard was also a secret Mafia member who was plotting to have the witnesses assassinated. His grip on reality however was less than secure, and he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital several months later after claiming he was the Son of God (injusticebusters.com). Lastly, which carries equal doubt in a question form is how a car could be stuck in the middle of the main road intersection for 15 minutes on a weekday morning without anybody noticing it (injusticebusters.com).
The rule of law is the fundamental principle that society is governed by laws applying equally to all persons and that neither any person nor the government is above the law (Alexandrowicz et.al 10). The element of laws being necessary applies the same as procedures must be done accordingly. At the crime scene, two frozen lumps of yellow snow were found; they were delivered to the lab and were later determined to contain semen and hair, this was done according to the procedures. However, police depended upon the evidence that was found at the unprotected crime scene four days later to eliminate suspects and focus on those with a certain blood type (injusticebusters.com).
Procedures state that steps to protect the area from accidental or intentional contamination by anyone, including police officers and other official personnel should be taken. In the same way, Linda Fisher, the wife of Larry Fisher, provided a statement to the police indicating that she had had suspicions about her husband in relation to the Gail Miller’s murder; once again procedures were not followed (injusticebusters.com). This error also infringes the second element of the rule of law; the law applies equally to all. According to this element, Larry Fisher should have been equally questioned with the same intensity as David Milgaard to bear out a comprehensive investigation.
Consequently, Milgaard’s case fits the description of the violation of the principle of justice. As mentioned above, sections from the Charter and Rule of Law were violated and moreover there were factors that carried reasonable doubt which were overlooked by the jury. The justice system ought to follow procedures accordingly, and should avoid the possession of “tunnel vision”, hence the justice system would gain the public confidence it now lacks.
Alexandrowicz et.al. Dimensions of Law: Canada and International Law in the 21st
Century. Toronto: Emond Montgomery Publications, 2004
Anderson, B & Anderson D. (1998) Manufacturing guilt: wrongful convictions in
Canada. Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing.
Injusticebusters “McCallum Inquiry into David Milgaard case: The relentless interrogation” April 26, 2005. December 8, 2005.
LLC, Lexico Publishing Group. “Criminal Justice” Dictionary.com. 1995. December 8, 2005 < http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=Criminal%20Justice>
LLC, Lexico Publishing Group. “Miscarriage of Justice” Dictionary.com. 1995. December 8, 2005 <http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=Miscarriage%20of%20Justice >
LLC, Lexico Publishing Group. “Reasonable Doubt” Dictionary.com. 1995. December 8, 2005 <http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=Reasonable%20Doubt>
The Free Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, ed. “David Milgaard.”, Wikipedia.
11 December. 2005. 13 December. 2005
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