Thursday, June 23, 2011

Testilying to secure a conviction

Recent cases involving fabricated evidence and ethical violations by police officers is giving cause to wonder, once again, if officers are going too far to get convictions. Last week Brampton Superior Court Judge Douglas Gray threw out the case of a man accused of 17 charges related to the prostitution of a 17-year-old girl. In R. v. Salmon, Justice Gray wrote that several Peel Region police officers fabricated evidence in an attempt to ensure a conviction against the accused.
It was suggested that the officers conferred with one another to make it appear as though the fake ID the girl used to work in sex clubs was found in the accused’s wallet. Other evidence produced at trial showed that the ID was actually turned over to the police at the station by the girl when she first arrived to make a complaint. If the ID had been found in the accused’s wallet it would have shown that he had a measure of control over the girl, which is essential for a conviction on several of the charges he faced.
Judge Gray singled out two of the officers pointing out that they had opportunity and motive for the falsification. Both had seen the accused charged with these offences before, only to have the counts stayed or dismissed. And both had ample opportunity to view and correct the incorrect evidence list but failed to do so.
While the Crown suggested that this was simply an error by an inexperienced officer who was overwhelmed, the Judge disagreed, concluding that this was deliberate and there was no available remedy short of a stay of proceedings that would be appropriate.
When is it all right for a police officer to incorrectly file evidence? Do we not expect officers who have completed training and begun work to be fully prepared regardless of how long they have been active? The ‘inexperienced’ officer involved has been with the force for about 6 years, not exactly a veteran but certainly experienced enough to know that evidence must be logged accurately as to where and how it was recovered. In suggesting inexperience as a reason for this behaviour the Crown is failing to recognize the severity of the conduct and brushing it off as an excusable mistake.
     Two unrelated but similarly concerning ethical scenarios also involve officers from Peel Region. In one, a superior officer was charged with perjury, three counts of obstructing justice and three counts of breach of trust, in relation to the trial of a fellow officer on drug charges late last year. In the other case, an officer was charged in connection with a fraud investigation after allegedly staging car collisions in furtherance of insurance claims for damage.
      While it is commendable that these officers are being identified and charged to the full extent of the law it is difficult to understand how the justice system is supposed to function when our most trusted members of society fail to work within the system and follow the law. We all want to see truly guilty people convicted but the rules of evidence are there to protect the innocent, and it can be hard to remember the old adage that it is better to let 12 guilty individuals go free than to let one innocent person suffer. 
1. Do police officers receive enough training in evidence rules? 
2. Is there a better way to monitor and train police ethics? 
3. Are cases like this a result of a lack of faith in the adversarial process? 
 Posted by Pamela Santora (Windsor Law II)

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