Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Steven Truscott and the Wrongfully Convicted

By now, most people in Canada have heard that Steven Truscott, the man who as a 14 year old in 1959, was convicted of raping and killing his 12 year old classmate, was given compensation yesterday to the tune of 6.5 million dollars.

My colleague and I talked about Truscott, and she was quite interested in wondering what the law was here with regard to the wrongfully convicted and the compensation that they get. In China, where my colleague is from, the government would pay money to the wrongfully- convicted person, but the government would for example, punish the judge if an error was made in their judgment. For example, the state would lower his salary so that in effect, the state would recoup a small amount of money that was paid out to the wrongfully convicted person. She could not understand why in Truscott's case-while she was fine with him getting compensation-the judge would not be punished. I'll have to do some further research on it. I know that you could go after the Crown for malicious prosecution, but you have to be careful. If the judge made an honest mistake, do you then go after the judge? If you do, that could affect how judges make their decisions in the future. They may be so nervous about making a mistake, it could affect their fulfilling their duties.

Perhaps, as some have suggested, there should be legislation brought in that specifically states the kind of compensation one would get. Right now, we have an ad hoc system in Canada, where compensation usually depends on the media attention you get. However, as others have also pointed out, no politician would ever go for introducing legislation, at least not one who is not courageous enough to do so. They do not want to appear soft on crime. Then again, at least with legislation, we would have a clear idea of the compensation that should be paid out. See the article "Convicting the Innocent" by Mark Bourrie in (1999) volume 23 Can. Lawyer No. 11, 29-32 for more.

I wonder what others would have to say about this.


Sharon said...
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Sharon said...

"If you do, that could affect how judges make their decisions in the future.", Daniel, could I say that if you don't, that could also affect how judges make their decisions? In Truscott's case, it's a different story, as the guilty decision was made by the jury instead of the judge. My point is, if the compensation soly comes from the taxpayer, how can we avoid having such things happen again in the future? A wrongfully convicted case can have many negative consequences: the victim's family not having a proper closure on their loss, the innocent man being punished for something he never did. To use one of the media's comments, 2 kids' life was ruinted on the same day when this crime happened. Furthermore, the real criminal would still be free and do further damages to the society, and the tax money, which can be used to improve the health care system, or to boost the economy, will have to be paid to compensate the innocent man...
Shouldn't the system try to hold the individuals responsible and make them pay (either financially or otherwise)for the mistake they made? Like I said, if a doctor make a mistake, even an honest one, he/she may not have any criminal responsibilities, but will have civil responsibilities. Why in the wrongful conviction case, no government officials, or police, or judges, or anyone else being held responsible at all? The idea of having them to "pay" is not simply to save the tax payers' contribution, but more importantly, to avoid the same mistakes again and again to a large extend, although it's hard to have a perfect judicial system that is flawless in any society.