DNA testing is to justice what the telescope is for the stars: not a lesson in biochemistry, not a display of the wonders of magnifying optical glass, but a way to see things as they really are. 29 It is a revelation machine. And the evidence says that most likely, thousands of innocent people are in prison, beyond the reach of the revelation machine, just as there are more stars beyond the sight of the most powerful telescope. 30 Although some observers may still maintain images of a flawless judicial system, it’s increasingly difficult to ignore the reality that innocent people are sometimes found guilty of crimes they didn’t commit.

Just how often this occurs is virtually impossible to say. But thanks in particular to the growing use of DNA evidence, it’s clear that wrongful convictions happen more frequently than most people would like to believe. Prosecutors describe wrongful convictions as extreme rarities. And some conservatives contend that the criminal justice system is weighted toward freeing the guilty to ensure that innocents are not mistakenly convicted. But in a country where 1. 8 million people are incarcerated in provincial and federal prisons, even a minute percentage of wrongful convictions translates into a lot of people.

If just 0. 5 percent of convictions for serious crimes are mistaken — as was suggested in a 1996 British Columbia University study that polled judges, prosecutors, police and public defenders — it would mean that some 10,000 people are wrongfully convicted in Canada each year. 31 “It’s a major public policy problem,” says David Protess, a Northwestern University journalism professor who has played a role in the exoneration of at least eight people in the state of Illinois.

If the percentage of wrongly convicted defendants is 1 percent — a figure that Protess believes to be low — “it still means that there are more wrongly incarcerated people in North America’s jails and prisons than are incarcerated in most places around the world. “32 The validity of the Canadian legal system is largely embedded in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is generally created for the protection of the accused but two essential parts of the charter are sections 7 and 11(d).

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For example, s. 7 implies that everyone has the right to liberty and freedom. In addition, s.11(d) implies the presumption of innocence. However, when a person’s innocence is falsely taken away, both violations take place. Breach of the Charter is an issue taken very seriously but the question is can the government ever compensate the wrongfully accused? 33 In this type of situation, it is certainly not enough to just say “I’m sorry”. When such a life- altering mistake has been made, the government obviously has a moral obligation to help wrongfully imprisoned individuals rebuild their lives. “Compensation is not a sign of weakness. It is a hallmark of justice” 34 -Senator Ellis

Yet compensation is a practical necessity for many ex-prisoners, who find that even proof of innocence does not reintegrate them into society, after having lost contacts in their fields of employment, having had their skills become rusty with nonuse — and often having lost faith in humanity after their ordeals. What can be done to halt the railroading of innocents? Reforms could be instituted, such as making crime labs independent and substituting DNA evidence for junk science. Coercive plea bargains could be halted. Prosecutors and police could rededicate themselves to justice and restore the integrity of the criminal justice system.

Until the system is reformed and the public becomes aware, we cannot presume a connection between conviction and guilt. Wrongful convictions within the criminal justice system have raised many questions concerning the justice process as a whole. Criminal agencies are institutions that people trust to maintain a certain order within our society. However, it is only criticized when particular cases involve someone being wrongfully accused. Wrongful convictions also reduce citizen’s confidence in the criminal justice system. Wrongful convictions undermine the two prongs of the criminal justice system’s legitimacy: truth and fairness.

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. One innocent citizen wrongfully convicted is too much!! We must make the search for the truth the cornerstone and the hallmark of our justice system. The competitive/adversial nature of our justice system as played out in our courts will perhaps always lend itself to zealous prosecution which ends up in wrongful convictions and shattered lives. We must change this!! True justice demands it!!


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