The Innocence Project

December 17th, 2007 at 11:18 am by David Farrar

Poneke (who is becoming a must read) has a very informative post about how Phil Goff’s promised inquiry into the Peter Ellis case was nobbled.  And yes the Val Sim he refers to is the same one who said the original Electoral Finance bill did not breach the Bill of Rights and is now on the Law Commission.

But more interesting for me is the blog post on The Innocence Project being set up by academics and others at Vic and Otago Unis.

I think the Peter Ellis case is a stain on our justice system, and am fully supportive of The Innocence Project.  This could even be a good cause for blogs from all sides of poltics to combine forces on to support.

How about a concerted campaign to set up a Criminal Cases Review Commission as proposed by Sir Thomas Thorp. In election year blogs could run a campaign to pressure all parliamentary parties to make it a policy commitment?

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29 Responses to “The Innocence Project”

  1. gd (2,286 comments) says:

    This Val Sims sounds a like a very very nasty bit of works Does anyone have the low down on her. I undersatnd she has been appointed to the law Commission the question is Is this a suitable person to be sitting on this body?

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  2. Adam Smith (890 comments) says:

    Innocence project is long overdue. See also Dom Post for article on DNA errors and arrogant statement by NZ bureaucrat that implies it does not happen her, of it does it would be picked up. i AM SURE dAVID dOUGHERTY WOULD AGREE. YEAH RIGHT!

    On No – strikes me the Scott Watson DNA evidence on Olivia Hope’s hair maybe the result of cross-contamination.

    further, the appeal process in NZ appears very reluctant to concede any chance of error – see Peter Ellis case and Poneke had a very good post on that also.

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  3. Adam Smith (890 comments) says:

    i AM SURE dAVID dOUGHERTY WOULD AGREE. YEAH RIGHT!

    My apologies, finger slipped and I did not realise I had used upper case, when lower case was my intent

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  4. vto (1,128 comments) says:

    this is an essential and superb thing/idea.

    better 10 guilty men go free than 1 innocent man get pinged.

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  5. Zippy Gonzales (485 comments) says:

    I vividly remember Dr Maryanne Garry’s lectures in undergrad PSYC back in the 90s, where she queried the validity of children’s sense of memory. Let us hope that Ablett-Kerr’s appeal to the Privy Council goes ahead. The status quo is Sim-ply unacceptable.

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  6. Brownie () says:

    Gosh, this is even worse than I had thought. I had read Lynley Hood’s book but have tried to stay neutral in my thoughts as I havn’t seen the evidence.

    However, with what I’ve just read re: Poneke’s post and Ross Francis independant report makes me shiver with the thought that so much of the civil service and especially the MOJ has been subverted by hysteria, conjecture and personal agendae (i.e Val Sim).

    With regard to Val Sims work, if the standard of reporting and analysis to the Law Commision is the same as some of her work from the Civic case trials and subsequent nefarious terms to Justice Eichelbaum, the Law Commision is in serious trouble.

    How are these people held to account? Ms Sim’s actions, words and alledged deeds need to be scrutinised? Is there a process for such scrutiny – especially in light of the position she now holds?

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  7. Kevin (1,122 comments) says:

    I wonder if the innocence project would be interested in persuing the injustices handed down to Herb Green and Dennis Bonham, being the other great politically driven witch hunt blighting NZs history.

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  8. hinamanu (2,352 comments) says:

    Does anyone know how Peter Ellis is getting on now.

    I take it he had no problems with employment issues and is leading close to normal life now.

    I was also shocked to find out that even if you do a full prison term you still have to go through a probation period. That’s wrong. If you get no remission, you shouldn’t have to be under the justice system any longer.

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  9. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    i’ll sign up for that..

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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  10. BeShakey (405 comments) says:

    I’m sure there have been some miscarriages of justice in our history, and I think it is critical we try to avoid these and have systems to ensure that any miscarriages of justice are rectified as quickly as possible. But I do find it a little difficult to believe that every (or the majority) of the high profile cases in NZ have resulted in miscarriages of justice. It makes good news to report on these kinds of things, but it seems unlikely that so many cases (almost exclusively high profile) were wrong. Of course this doesn’t mean we should look at these things, but I think we should be suspicious that the media suggests so many cases are problematic.

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  11. poneke (280 comments) says:

    How about a concerted campaign to set up a Criminal Cases Review Commission as proposed by Sir Thomas Thorp. In election year blogs could run a campaign to pressure all parliamentary parties to make it a policy commitment?

    Sounds a good idea. Incidentally, one MP, Nandor, was at the conference.

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  12. Adam Smith (890 comments) says:

    BeShakey

    It was Sir Thomas Thorp who said based on UK stats that there was the potential for 1% of prison population, ie 80 people, to be wrongly convicted, not the media

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  13. Adam Smith (890 comments) says:

    Poneke has later posts on a review of the children’s evidence in the Ellis case which appears at first sight to invalidate much of the prosecution and call into question why Ellis was ever sent down, let alone not exonerated later. lends credence to the argument that NZ judges will not contemplate that they might be wrong.

    Ellis must be pardoned or at the least given a fair trial unlike his last one which appears to have been shonky at best and biased or worse on a more jaundiced view

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  14. Gooner (995 comments) says:

    There is no need for a Criminal Cases Tribunal or whatever you want to call it. The numbers don’t justify it. The system works adequately. There will always be wrongly convicted people but that doesn’t mean we need a Tribunal or Commission to deal with it.

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  15. frog (84 comments) says:

    Let’s see how our own home grown Innocence Project does before we go creating a bureaucracy around all this. I think we should give them our full support and a chance to make a difference.

    [DPF: I sort of agree, except that the Ministry of Justice may ignore the evidence as it seems to do with the other cases. A body with a constitutional ability to refer to the Court of Appeal appeals to me, but hey as long as there is some progress I am happy]

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  16. BeShakey (405 comments) says:

    Adam Smith – my point was more that there seems to be concern around all the high profile cases, but not around more mundane ones. I find it hard to believe that there is an amazing match up between unsafe convictions and cases that sell papers. I was explicit that I didn’t question the fact that there are unsafe convictions, or that they should be addressed.

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  17. baxter (893 comments) says:

    There is a lot wrong with the Justice system, and the treatment of victims is at the top of my thinking. Every circumstantial case has holes in it which can be twisted and turned to differing effect. We select Juries to come to just conclusions and we allow perpetrators repeated and expensive appeals and retrials. Like Geoffrey Palmers committee to assess sentencing and Parole Boards this proposition is a perpetrator friendly bureaucratic nonsense which will probably however come to pass.

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  18. Rex Widerstrom (5,343 comments) says:

    Ann Innocence Project is long, long overdue in New Zealand. It’s a widely held belief that everyone behind bars claims to be innocent. Perhaps they do when facing lawyers, judges, probation boards etc. But not when talking to other inmates – most people who are guilty readily admit the fact. But a scary number of people inside maintain their innocence and can list a litany of stuf-ups, what sounds very much like conspiracies amongst police and prosecutors, and just general injustice within an overworked system straining at the seams.

    As vto says “better 10 guilty men go free than 1 innocent man get pinged”. The trouble is, I have heard the reverse sentiment expressed by people – most recently the excreable Hetty Johnston of the “Bravehearts” group here in Australia – that it’s better 10 innocent men spend time in jail than one guilty man go free. And the media and politicians nod gravely rather than stomping on this woman and her ilk.

    The Innocence Project is something I’ll be doing whatever I can to support. It’s to be hoped it reaches fruition – a similar effort on this side of the Tasman with which I’m involved is facing all sorts of hurdles.

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  19. Inventory2 (10,264 comments) says:

    The Peter Ellis case really is a travesty of justice. I read with a mix of interest and horror the NZ Law Journal articles that Poneke linked to. And sadly, the fingerprints of Margaret Wilson are all over this case. The NZLJ reports that:

    “The Hon Margaret Wilson, then Associate Minister of
    Justice and Attorney-General, believed that the Court of
    Appeal had not recommended a commission of inquiry.
    Instead, the Court:
    was doing no more than indicating that it is not its role to
    resolve conflicts in expert opinion as to the best techniques
    for interviewing children in the context of possible
    sexual abuse. (Letter to Cabinet, 1 March 2000)
    Wilson’s interpretation of the appellate Court’s decision was
    unsympathetic to the possibility of a miscarriage of justice.
    Futhermore, her comment belittled the contributions of three
    experts, two of whom had seen the complainants being
    formally interviewed. Their contributions went well beyond
    discussing how child abuse victims should be interviewed.
    Indeed, their focus was on whether it was likely that any
    abuse had occurred.
    Wilson told Cabinet that the case was not unique. She
    claimed that “it was doubtful whether there is anything
    particularly different or special about the Ellis case distinguishing
    it from many other child abuse cases”. She noted
    that the only difference was the large number of child witnesses.
    Her claim that the case was not special was troublesome.
    Michael Lamb and other experts had made it clear that
    mass allegation crèche cases were special.
    Cases involving multiple young complainants within the
    same child care setting involve higher risks of contamination
    and thus require precautionary and preventive steps
    by investigators…[s]uch steps were not taken in the case
    of Peter Ellis. (Michael E Lamb, R v Ellis (CA 120/98))
    Wilson argued that finality was an overriding principle.
    “Once the criminal justice system has run it course, it is
    important that victims can feel they can put the matter
    behind them.”Wilson also claimed that the central issue was
    the children’s credibility. The jury, she argued, was in the best
    position to judge their credibility; no inquiry “could ever
    enjoy the unique advantage and insight into the case that the
    jury had”.
    She was mistaken. It was the children’s reliability that was
    the central issue. Whilst some of the complainants may have
    appeared credible, the question was whether their evidence
    was accurate. This did not mean that they had lied. Indeed,
    young children typically have an undeveloped understanding
    of deception and lies. It is for this reason that they can pose
    difficulties as witnesses: they can be both sincere and incorrect.
    That Wilson, a barrister and former law professor,
    could confuse credibility with reliability was troublesome.
    The implication was that 12 lay people could, and possibly
    did, make the same mistake.”

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  20. ross (1,454 comments) says:

    “How about a concerted campaign to set up a Criminal Cases Review Commission as proposed by Sir Thomas Thorp. In election year blogs could run a campaign to pressure all parliamentary parties to make it a policy commitment?”

    Hmmm, I thought this was National Party policy. But from all accounts, the envious prick is not too keen on an independent tribunal. Probably far cheaper to let the Ministry of Justice decide on miscarriages of justice with their two staff members attached to such a task. An independent tribunal would cost serious money and then there would be the payouts to the wrongly convicted. Better to pretend there is no problem.

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  21. Adam Smith (890 comments) says:

    Be Shakey

    Your point noted. I think broadly we are in agreement

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  22. Adam Smith (890 comments) says:

    Gooner

    So you think it is OK for 80 people to be wrongly locked up with no satisfactory process for establishing the truth

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  23. Adam Smith (890 comments) says:

    Baxter

    If I understand you correctly you do not accept that the police and courts get it wrong, so therefore innocent people never go to jail.

    And in any event if they do so what appears to be your view.

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  24. Scott (1,762 comments) says:

    It’s amazing how many high profile cases where the person is convicted — in reality they are innocent!??
    Scott Watson — innocent, Arthur Alan Thomas — innocent, David Bain — innocent, and Peter Ellis — innocent.

    Do we seriously think that all of those people are innocent? It seems that maintaining your innocence throughout is the key. If you believe that you are innocent and you state that at all times and in all situations eventually someone will take up your case and you will be freed. Never mind the facts. Also if someone can write a profitable best-selling book about your case then your long-term future is assured.

    As to the “it’s better for 10 guilty men to be freed than one innocent man goes to jail” I have never understood this or agreed with it. Who said it? And how do we know he was right? I think there are lots of innocent victims out there crying out for justice. I think there are lots of guilty people out there walking free. And I think there are lots of people in jail who delude themselves (and others) about their innocence.

    I also think there are a number of people out there looking for a fashionable cause — we used to cry out “free Nelson Mandela!” But we can’t do that any more. So people are looking for someone else — “free Scott Watson!”, “free Peter Ellis! “, free err somebody!

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  25. ross (1,454 comments) says:

    Scott, you wrote: “Do we seriously think that all of those people are innocent?”

    Well, why don’t you attempt to answer your question? As has been stated on this site, Sir Thomas Thorp – who has a fair amount of credibility on this matter – has said about 1% of convictions could be unsafe. So about 99% of convictions are probably correct. But you seem to be suggesting that they’re all correct!

    The other point is that you confuse innocence with reasonable doubt. Is Peter Ellis innocent? I don’t know because I wasn’t there. But looking at the evidence that was and wasn’t presented to the jury, I have to say that there is reasonable doubt. That is sufficient for a conviction to be quashed. No person should have to prove their innocence, which is what you seem to be suggesting.

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  26. Scott (1,762 comments) says:

    No I don’t think they are all innocent. There are a lot of murders and a lot of dead bodies — someone must have killed them!

    In regards to Peter Ellis I haven’t particularly followed all the details of the case. However I remember reading a letter to The Listener from a parent of one of the children who attended the creche. She wrote vividly about her child’s anguish, who was worried that Peter would be there hiding whenever he went to the toilet.

    However the jury and the judge has heard all the facts of the case and found the man guilty. There I think it should rest.

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  27. baxter (893 comments) says:

    Adam….In my long experience of dealing with criminals most of them claimed innocence and I would be hard put to name any that might have been..All I can urge is that you stem your bleeding hearts for the criminals who through their legal representatives have already have managed to skew the scales of justice heavily in their favour and think of the deal their victims get. If you are a normal law abiding taxpayer you may be the next one/

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  28. ross (1,454 comments) says:

    “However the jury and the judge has heard all the facts of the case and found the man guilty. There I think it should rest.”

    Except the jury didn’t hear all the facts of the case. If you knew anything at all about the case, you should know that. You should visist Poneke’s blog and see the latest news about the case. Who knows, it might cause to change your mind.

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  29. Rex Widerstrom (5,343 comments) says:

    Scott opines:

    No I don’t think they are all innocent. There are a lot of murders and a lot of dead bodies — someone must have killed them!

    Such talk reminds me of the case of in Western Australia of John Button who was arrested, tried and convicted of murder. While he was serving his sentence a serial killer – already sentenced to death for other crimes and thus with nothing to gain by lying – confessed to the murder for which Button was imprisoned.

    But the police, prosecutors and indeed the entire “justice” system had so much pride vested in his conviction they refused to accept the serial killer’s confession and Button served out the sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. 40 years later he appealed and was cleared, and received some paltry compensation.

    Yes, “someone” is piling up the dead bodies – just not always the person serving time for it. And even if you’re not concerned about the plight of innocents in jail, Scott, what about the real killers who get to run free?

    The reintroduction of the death penalty in the US during 1976 also revealed a significant number of prisoners who suffered miscarriages of justice before being freed from prison. Twelve death row prisoners were exonerated, with DNA a significant factor in establishing their innocence:

    – Earl Washington, of Virginia, sentenced to death in 1984, came within nine days of being strapped into the electric chair and executed for the rape and murder of Rebecca Williams, three years earlier. Washington was reprieved and served 16 years, 91/2 of them on death row, before DNA established his innocence. He was released from prison in 2000 and granted an absolute pardon.
    – Kirk Bloodsworth, from Maryland, sentenced to death in 1984, served nine years before DNA established his innocence. He was released from prison in 1993.
    – Rolando Cruz, Illinois, sentenced to death in 1985, served 10 years before DNA established his innocence. Released from prison in 1995.
    Alejandro Hernandez, Illinois, also sentenced to death in 1985, served 10 years before DNA established his innocence. Released from prison in 1995.
    – Verneal Jimerson, Illinois, sentenced to death in 1985, served 11 years before DNA established his innocence. Released from prison in 1996.
    – Dennis Williams, Illinois, sentenced to death in 1979, served 17 years before DNA established his innocence. Released from prison in 1996.
    – Robert Lee Miller, Jr Oklahoma, sentenced to death in 1988, served 10 years before DNA established his innocence. Released from prison in 1998.
    – Ronald Williamson, Oklahoma, sentenced to death in 1988, served 11 years before DNA established his innocence. Released from prison in 1999.
    – Ronald Jones, Illinois, sentenced to death in 1989, served 10 years before DNA established his innocence. Released from prison in 1999.
    – Ray Krone, Arizona, sentenced to death in 1992, served 10 years before DNA established his innocence. Released from prison in 2002.
    – Charles Fain, Idaho, sentenced to death in 1983, served 18 years before DNA established his innocence. Released from prison in 2001.
    – Frank Lee Smith, Florida, sentenced to death in 1986, served 14 years before DNA established his innocence. Smith died in prison before he was exonerated.

    If one of these men were a member of your family, Scott – or even yourself – I’d suggest your views as to the perfect state of the justice system might change fairly quickly.

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