Wrongful Assault Convictions a Problem for Calgary and Canada

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Back in 1983, Ivan Henry was convicted of ten sexual assaults that occurred in downtown Vancouver between 1980 and 1982. He was declared a dangerous offender and imprisoned for an indeterminate sentence. Unfortunately, during Henry’s incarceration, assaults similar to the ones he had been accused of continued; the wrong man had been convicted, and it would take another twenty-seven years before the miscarriage of justice would be rectified.

It was not until 2002 that Vancouver police were able to link another man to some of the assaults with the help of DNA evidence; the man would later plead guilty to the crimes. Due to the similarities between these cases and the crimes Henry had been convicted of, an investigation was launched to determine whether he could reopen his appeal. Finally, in 2010, the British Columbia Court of Appeal entered acquittals on all charges, and Ivan Henry was a free man.

What Does This Mean for Calgary Assault Cases?

To all of us in Calgary, Henry’s case should serve as a wake-up call about the nature of criminal defence cases in the modern world. His wrongful assault conviction is being attributed to a failure on the part of Crown prosecutors to properly disclose important information. Key forensic evidence was kept hidden from the jury, and witness statements were apparently obscured to mask inconsistencies in the prosecution's case.

According to Justice Low of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, the verdict in Henry’s case “...was not one that a properly instructed jury acting judicially could reasonably have rendered.” As such, the Supreme Court ruled on April 30th in favor of allowing Henry to sue the provincial government for damages resulting from the prosecutor’s actions.

This is an important ruling, in that it provides a precedent that may serve to protect people wrongfully accused of assault or other crimes in Calgary. In allowing Henry to sue, the country has reevaluated its standard that a wrongfully imprisoned individual was not entitled to damages for acts or omissions of the Crown counsel except in the event that maliciousness could be proven. This is a standard that has gone largely unexplored since the 18th century, before prosecutions were made public, and one that has been deemed too strict in today’s judicial system.

According to the court, an individual in Henry’s position must now only reasonably establish that the prosecutor who worked on his or her case, on a balance of probabilities, purposefully withheld information that he or she should reasonably have known was material to the criminal defence, and that the lack of this information violated his or her rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Henry’s lawyers are calling the ruling a “significant victory," for Henry himself and for any other individual seeking to protect his or her rights following a wrongful assault conviction in Vancouver, in Calgary, and throughout Canada.

Protect Your Rights with an Experienced Calgary Assault Defence Lawyer

If you or a family member has been accused of assault, regardless of the circumstances, your rights are best protected when you have an experienced lawyer by your side. If you're in the Calgary area, contact Susan Karpa today for a free consultation. Don't let a miscarriage of justice affect your freedom and your future—get the help you need right away.

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