Innocent NZers locked up for crimes they did not commit
'Innocent man' in jail 20 years
An innocent man has spent almost 20 years in jail for one of New Zealand's most notorious cases of rape and murder, says a detective with expert knowledge of the crime.
One of the bed rock principles of justice was the concept that it was better 10 guilty people go free rather than one innocent person goes to prison. The horror of citizens convicted wrongly and imprisoned for crimes they have not committed was once thought of as far more heinous than the wrongful acquittal of a guilty person. There was an appreciation that the state is far more powerful than the individual and that the individual required certain legal protections enshrined to make any defense against the all powerful state possible.
I present all of this in the past tense because with the rise of pressure groups like the Sensible Sentencing Trust to whip up public anger fueled by a media who give headline prominence to 'if-it-bleeds-it-leads' ratings driven crime journalism, the legal principles and protections once up held in NZ have diminished with the speed of a lynch mod dispensing justice at the end of a rope.
National's 4 years in power to date represent some of the largest erosions of civil liberties this country has seen since 1951. No more jury trials for sentences of 2 years, no independent legal aid and trial by tv screens add to the vast new surveillance powers that legalize Police breaking into private properties to plant spy cameras and spy on citizens with the barest of legal oversight.
In such an environment of longer sentences and harder sentences (which only serve to reap more profits for the private prison industry), the question of how many innocent NZers we are accidentally throwing into prison isn't even asked.
Thankfully Labour have suggested some forward momentum on the issue...
Labour takes aim at wrongful convictions
Labour is going into the next election with a justice reform platform aimed at boosting confidence that innocent people are not being sent to prison.
The party is developing a policy which would see new rules affecting everyone from the police officer to the Governor-General.
The last real attempt to try and work out how many innocent NZers we are throwing into prison was last looked at in 2007. Organised by Matthew Gerrie & Maryanne Garry, the project was primarily a group of scientists, writers and lawyers who aimed to investigate possible cases wrongful conviction in the New Zealand legal system. A report on the topic at the Conference found that the leading causes of wrongful convictions are:
•eyewitness misidentification – by far the biggest problem
•false confessions – an astonishing 25% of the innocent men were pressured into making some kind of admission
•ineffective legal representation – one man was refused an appeal even though he complained that his lawyer was asleep during critical parts of the trial!
•use of jailhouse informants – as happened in the Scott Watson murder conviction
...so we know the ingredients that go into allowing innocent people to go to prison, but still no real numbers. Unfortunately the redneck agenda of punitive punishment still rules the political debate in NZ, but I do think that rednecks and conservatives can be humiliated into concessions. If an innocence project were to be started in NZ and some cases start becoming unearthed, even the most foaming David Garrett/Leighton Smith/Mike Hoskings/Paul Henry/Paul Holmes/Garden variety ACT voter/Michael Laws fan feels squeamish at innocent people getting jailed.
The justice system is so warped by hate now that it will only be example after example after example of miscarriages of justice to force a rethink. You can't reason with the law and order lynch mob, you can only make them ashamed of their blood lust.
Until then, innocent NZers will languish in the horror of being not guilty in prison.