Conviction: The AIDWYC Blog

25 11, 2014

After 28 years Frank Ostrowski gets the chance to prove he was wrongly convicted

By |November 25th, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) announces the referral of Frank Ostrowski’s murder case back to the Manitoba Court of Appeal, 28 years after his conviction for the first degree murder of Robert Nieman.

Today the Minister of Justice, the Honourable Peter MacKay, announced that he was sending Frank Ostrowski’s murder conviction back to the Manitoba Court of Appeal for it to be re-considered by the Court.

AIDWYC lawyers James Lockyer and Alan Libman will be appearing today before the Manitoba Court of Appeal at 10:00 a.m. to ask that Mr. Ostrowski be allowed to remain on bail until the Court of Appeal hears his appeal.
A History of Mr. Ostrowski’s Prosecution
On September 24, 1986 two men broke into Mr. Nieman’s residence in Winnipeg, laid in wait for him, and shot him several times when he came home. He died of his wounds a month later.

Mr. Ostrowski was accused of having hired the two men who committed the murder based on the evidence of a highly questionable witness named Matthew Lovelace. Ostrowski was convicted in May, 1987 after a trial before Mr. Justice Darichuk and a jury in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Winnipeg.

In February, 1989, the Manitoba Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal and in June, 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed his further appeal.

Since then, Mr. Ostroswki has tried every avenue possible to challenge his conviction. He managed to convince the Winnipeg Police Department to review his case in 1994 but to no avail. He went to private investigators and lawyers for help.

Then, in 2002, he came to AIDWYC and asked us to help him with his case.

In 2005, we discovered that the Crown had made a deal [...]

24 11, 2014

Glen Assoun Released from Prison Pending Federal Review of 1999 Murder Conviction

By |November 24th, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

Glen Assoun hugs his family after being granted bail today in Halifax. Photo: Danielle Levesque

 

November 24, 2014

A significant legal and humanitarian development has taken place today in a case where the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) believes a terrible miscarriage of justice occurred.

Glen Assoun, a 59-year-old Nova Scotia man, was granted bail pending the results of a continuing investigation by a federal Department of Justice review body into serious questions surrounding his conviction.

Mr. Assoun has spent over 16 years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend, Brenda Way – a murder AIDWYC firmly believes he did not commit.

Today’s bail decision was made in Halifax by the Honourable Mr. Justice James Chipman. It followed a proceeding attended by AIDWYC counsel and the Crown.

His Lordship ruled that Mr. Assoun should be released under carefully crafted conditions to reside with family members pending the outcome of the federal investigation.

While several obstacles remain before Mr. Assoun can be exonerated and his name cleared, his release on bail holds great symbolic and practical significance in the battle to restore his innocence.

It means that sufficient doubt has been raised about Mr. Assoun’s conviction to warrant his conditional freedom while the court system delves back into the evidence in his case.

AIDWYC is very pleased with the decision and believes the federal review will bear out the association’s rigorous assessment of the case over the course of several years.

Mr. Assoun would become the 19th person to be exonerated since AIDWYC came into existence in 1993.

Since the day he was arrested, Mr. Assoun has protested his innocence.

“I never unpacked my suitcase in prison because I knew I was innocent,” Mr. Assoun said. “I am looking forward to finally seeing [...]

23 11, 2014

The Psychology of Judicial Instructions: Why a good memory can have bad consequences

By |November 23rd, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

Author: Tyler King
One cannot unring a bell; after the thrust of a saber, it is difficult to say forget the wound; and finally, if you throw a skunk into the jury box, you can’t instruct the jury not to smell it.

(Dunn v. United States, 1962, p. 886)
Have you ever watched a horror movie with a particularly disturbing scene that you couldn’t get out of your head? You tried and tried to stop thinking about it but the imagery just kept lingering, for days. For weeks? And the more you tried not to think about that scene the more powerful it became? If this sounds familiar you are not alone.

This psychological phenomenon relates to theories of “thought suppression” (Wenzlaff and Wegner, 2000). It is widely accepted among the scientific community that actively trying to suppress or ‘forget’ a specific thought can actually lead to a more powerful and reoccurring remembrance. This is sometimes referred to as the “rebound effect” (Wenzlaff and Wegner, 2000; Steblay et al, 2006). It has been argued that we are prone to subconsciously rebel when we are told what we can and cannot think about (Kassin and Sommer, 1997; Isbell, Tyler, and DeLorenzo, 2007). Therefore, when we are instructed or otherwise inclined to not think about something we may be more likely to do the exact opposite (Wenzlaff and Wegner, 2000).

Now imagine you are a juror on a high-profile case. You just heard some incredible testimony and were presented with evidence that makes you strongly believe the defendant is guilty. The judge then decides that the testimony and the evidence are inadmissible and must be stricken from the record. The judge proceeds to instruct you and the rest of [...]

12 11, 2014

When Justice Fails: Charter violations, wrongful convictions, and compensation

By |November 12th, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

 

Flawed eyewitness identification evidence contributed to Ivan Henry’s wrongful conviction. Six of the witnesses who identified Henry did so when he was in a headlock, held by three uniformed police officers.

Photo: Toronto Star

Ivan Henry spent nearly 27 years in a federal prison for someone else’s crimes. In 2010, the British Columbia Court of Appeal acquitted him on all counts. The Court held that “the verdict on each count was not one that a properly instructed jury acting judicially could reasonably have rendered.”[1] Mr. Henry is among the longest serving wrongly convicted in Canadian history.

Mr. Henry is now a free man, and he is fighting for compensation for his wrongful conviction.

The “rip-off rapist” and Ivan Henry’s wrongful conviction

Between November 25, 1980 and June 8, 1982, a serial rapist terrorized the people of Vancouver. During that period, police received 20 complaints of sexual assaults which they concluded were the fault of one man: the “rip-off rapist”.

The perpetrator would break into a ground-floor apartment at night, wake up the female occupant, tell her that he was ripped off by someone who lived there, and then sexually assault her at knifepoint. He would shroud his face in a piece of clothing and cover his victim’s head with a pillowcase. These attacks were concentrated in four Vancouver neighbourhoods, and the perpetrator’s modus operandi (MO) was distinct enough for the police to link the crimes together.

Mr. Henry was charged with these offences, but the Vancouver police had another suspect: D.M. D.M. lived on the same city block as Mr. Henry, at the centre of many of the attacks. D.M. had been under police surveillance as a suspect since the spring of 1981. He had a history of night-time sexual predatory [...]

31 10, 2014

Is a Right Really a Right When You Have to Ask for it…in a Foreign Language?

By |October 31st, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

Author: Ashley Bridgeman, Law Student, Osgoode Hall

Imagine for a second that you have been charged with a crime. Any crime, really. Imagine you are in a court room, trying desperately to prove your innocence. You are likely scared, worried, and unsure. Now imagine that you don’t understand the language being spoken in the courtroom. Maybe you understand a few words, maybe you don’t understand anything, but certainly you don’t understand enough to know what’s going on, or how to help yourself.

While organizations like AIDWYC provide assistance to those who have been wrongly convicted, unfortunately not every miscarriage of justice can be rectified. That is why prevention of wrongful convictions is so important. When people talk about the factors that contribute to a wrongful conviction, they often talk about mistaken eyewitness ID evidence, bad forensic science, etc. but another factor that may contribute to wrongful convictions is bad, or non-existent, translation.

In a report to Parliament last November, Canada’s correctional investigator Howard Sapers drew attention to the disproportionate representation of minorities in prison in comparison to their share of the general population, stating that it is a persistent and growing problem.[1] The report found that one in four inmates is foreign-born, and that Aboriginal people account for nearly one-quarter of all prisoners.  While translation in proceedings is not addressed in the report, Sapers does point out that there should be an increase of staff in prisons who speak languages other than English and French. It is clear that if multiple languages are required in prisons, they are also needed in courtrooms. It is essential that language issues be dealt with appropriately in order to ensure fair trials.

Fortunately, court interpreters are provided where requested in all criminal [...]

15 10, 2014

It’s a Wrap: Wrongful Conviction Day 2014

By |October 15th, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

Special Thanks to Monica Neacsu for compiling this post!

The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) launched the first International Wrongful Conviction Day on Thursday October 2nd, 2014. The day was a great success as we raised public awareness of wrongful convictions all around the world and acknowledged those who have been exonerated as well as those who continue to seek justice. The contributions and support from Innocence Projects, schools, not-for-profit organizations as well as the extensive media coverage this day of recognition garnered can be seen below. Coverage of AIDWYC’s events at the Law Society will be posted here soon!
Events
California Innocence Project

 The California Innocence Project (CIP) hosted Wrongful Conviction Day at California Western School of Law.  CIP Director Justin Brooks spoke about ethical implications in post-conviction cases.  Following the lecture, Brooks led a round table discussion with a distinguished panel of exonerees, including: Herman Atkins, Reggie Cole, Uriah Courtney, and Nick Yarris.  The exonerees fielded questions from the crowd and talked about the their experiences in the criminal justice system.  Combined, the exonerees spent more than 60 years in prison.

(Left – Right): Herman Atkins, Nick Yarris, Professor Justin Brooks, Uriah Courtney

 

Michigan Innocence Clinic

Exoneree David Gavitt spoke to students at the University of Michigan Law School on Friday, Oct. 3, as part of an event held to recognize the first International Wrongful Conviction Day. David spent 27 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of felony murder in relation to the house fire in which his wife and two daughters were killed. His conviction was based entirely on what isnow known to have been junk science about fire behavior. He was exonerated through the efforts of the Michigan Innocence [...]

2 10, 2014

GOVERNMENT AND POLICE CONTINUE IN THEIR EFFORT TO HALT ROMEO PHILLION’S COMPENSATION CLAIM

By |October 2nd, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

Romeo Phillion addressed the membership at AIDWYC’s Annual General Meeting on June 14, 2014 while fellow exoneree, Rejean Hinse, looked on Photo: Jesse Johnston

 

Press Conference at AIDWYC at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 2, 2014

111 Peter Street, Suite 408, Toronto, ON
GOVERNMENT AND POLICE CONTINUE IN THEIR EFFORT TO HALT
ROMEO PHILLION’S COMPENSATION CLAIM
 Toronto (Thursday, October 2, 2014) – The Attorney General for Ontario and the Ottawa Police are once more trying to prevent Romeo Phillion from being compensated for the 31 years he spent in prison for a murder he did not commit.

The Attorney General and Police tried to stop his action for compensation as soon as he made it. In July of this year, the Ontario Court of Appeal said his claim must proceed. Now they are trying to stop it again by appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada.

It was earlier this week they appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Coincidentally, Thursday, October 2 is the first International Wrongful Conviction Day. The day was created by the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) and at least eight countries will be involved. It should be a day of celebration for Romeo Phillion, but instead it is another day of advocacy for him.

Mr. Phillion, now 75, spent a decade longer in prison than any others of the wrongly convicted in Canada. After more than 31 years, he was released and it was another 7 years before his name was finally cleared when the Crown withdrew the murder charge at his retrial in Ottawa.

Mr. Phillion commenced an action for compensation for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Since then, the Attorney General and Ottawa Police have done everything they can to [...]

23 09, 2014

Press Release: Wrongful Conviction Day October 2, 2014

By |September 23rd, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

 
Toronto, ON (September 22, 2014) – The Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) is launching the first International Wrongful Conviction Day October 2nd, 2014. The annual event will highlight the need to prevent and remedy wrongful convictions around the world.

AIDWYC is a Canadian non-profit organization that is the direct successor to the Justice for Guy Paul Morin Committee, a grassroots organization that came into existence in support of Guy Paul Morin immediately following his wrongful conviction in the summer of 1992. This Committee reconstituted itself as AIDWYC in May 1993. The group’s volunteers have reviewed hundreds of cases, leading to the successful exoneration of 18 innocent individuals, who together have spent 175 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

The media is encouraged to cover this very first Wrongful Conviction Day. The Association’s pro-bono lawyers, board members and some of the people who have themselves been wrongly convicted are available for interviews before and on October 2nd.

Event in Toronto October 2nd, 2014:
Law Society of Upper Canada
Lecture in Barrister’s Lounge 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.
Reception in Convocation Hall 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
130 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M5H 2N6

LECTURE: AIDWYC will hold a lecture titled Preventing and Rectifying Wrongful Convictions by Understanding Their Causes. James Lockyer, AIDWYC’s co-founder and the lead lawyer who represented many of the wrongly convicted who were eventually exonerated such as Guy Paul Morin, David Milgaard, Steven Truscott, Clayton Johnson, Romeo Phillion and many others, will speak. York University’s Dr. Tim Moore, an expert on false confessions, will also make a presentation.Dr. Moore offered the following explanation as to the importance of this particular topic on this memorable day:
False confessions are among the leading [...]

18 09, 2014

In Honour of Wrongful Conviction Day: One Wrongly Convicted Person’s Story

By |September 18th, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

 

Author: Ron Dalton

I have spent the last few days in the presence of two dying relatives and consider it a privilege to have done so. It has been a profoundly moving experience and has given me occasion to refocus on the value of the limited time we all have in life.

Our sense of loss

My experiences as a wrongly convicted individual tend to colour my reflections on the value of every minute of every day. I wish I could say those experiences have given me the clarity of focus to make the most of each precious moment.

However, I can say those experiences have helped to increase my evaluation of life’s moments and sharpen the sense of loss I – and I suspect the sense of loss that most wrongly convicted people – live with each day.

I have had the good fortune to spend time with many wrongly convicted individuals and share some of our mutual sense of loss over the many days and years lost to injustice.

Trusting my own self-worth

Surprisingly, many of the men and women I have spoken with express the feeling that the experience of wrongful conviction was not entirely negative, although we all agree the overall experience was decidedly so.

Personally, I found when all else was taken from me I learned to appreciate and trust my own sense of self-worth. I was truly the only person who knew, with absolute certainty, I was innocent.

I remain extremely grateful to my friends and family members who believed in my innocence and worked tirelessly to help me prove it. Yet I took most solace from the sure and certain knowledge of my innocence that I alone possessed – the truth is a powerful companion in times of darkness.

Honouring my obligation [...]

5 09, 2014

Heads or Tails: Can the police really tell when a suspect is lying?

By |September 5th, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off|

Author: Tyler Joseph King, Criminal Justice Graduate, Ryerson University

What does an untruthful person look like? What does he or she say, how might he or she act? What makes a dishonest person different from somebody who is honest? Many of us believe that we possess an innate ability to detect when people are trying to deceive us. Yet, when we tell a lie, we often go out of our way to try and appear as if we are telling the truth. I bet you can think of somebody who you would never dream of lying to – a friend or a parent perhaps – because they seem to have a sixth sense: the ability to know when you are being dishonest.

Despite these common perceptions, the notion that humans can adequately detect deception goes against the vast majority of scientific research. Fortunately, our confident (albeit misguided) assertions of guilt and innocence usually have very little practical consequence in the world. Unfortunately, the stakes become a lot higher when considering the interrogation techniques of the police.

It is tempting to believe that a trained police officer will be much more effective at uncovering lies than you or I would be. After all, in popular culture police officers are often portrayed as having psychic-like powers allowing them to separate the truthful suspects from the guilty deceivers. Undoubtedly this would be a useful skill for law enforcement personnel – the question becomes is it actually realistic?

The Behavioural Analysis Interview

In Canada, many police investigators are trained to interview and interrogate suspects using a technique known as the Reid Technique. The Reid Technique has received much criticism recently for being both ineffective and overly coercive (Snook et al, 2010; Gudjonsson & [...]