Friday, 2 March 2007

Innocent until proven guilty

Is it justice or injustice to withhold the information of a defendant's previous conviction from a jury? That's the question many people are asking this morning.

Shipton and Schollum were found guilty in 2005 of a similar rape to the one with which they were charged in the recent case; that rape happened at a similar time to this one. That conviction surely speaks volumes about their character, doesn't it? Shouldn't juries be made aware of the type of people they are judging?

My answer: Not necessarily.

You see, juries are rightly required to judge only on the facts before them. The prosecution is required to lay out the facts that prove beyond doubt that the defendants did what the prosecution says they did, and if the evidence itself can't convict, then a jury is rightly required to deliver a not guilty verdict. This is how innocent people are protected from unfair convictions. This is what it means to be innocent until proven guilty -- a person's guilt on specific charges must be proved by the facts germane to those charges.

But surely the character of the defendants is important to a case? Well, not necessarily. Character can certainly become an issue during sentencing. And it can become an issue too if the defendants choose to stand on their character and make that part of their defence; at that point, a previous conviction would certainly be germane. If their lawyer was to say, "These aren't the sort of men who would do this sort of thing," then straightaway a previous conviction comes on point.

But Shipton and Schollum's lawyer didn't do that for them. He couldn't -- and not just because of the prior conviction. It's true that former All Black Steve McDowell was called to give evidence on behalf of Clint Rickards (and based on the paucity of factual testimony offered by McDowell, we can only conclude he was called as an 'informal' character witness for a man very much short of the quality) but given the previous conviction -- and what that conviction was for -- the defence knew in this case that they just couldn't go there; they were unable to use their character as any sort of defence, or even to place Schollum or Shipton in the witness box lest they inadvertently make their own character an issue -- and the defence was hamstrung here not just because of the previous conviction, but also because the character of all three defendants is so loathsome.

Rickards did take the stand, and even at the distance offered by the filter of television, radio and newspaper his thuggishness and brutality was clear enough. Yet despite this obvious thuggishness, which we figure must surely have stared the jury in the face, the jury concluded that the facts did not support a conviction in this case. Such is their right. They saw all the facts that the prosecution had determined related to this case, and we didn't. Their verdict was given on the basis of those facts.

Justice, we have to say, has been done in this case, and on these charges.

But the character of all three men has now been laid bare for all time, and it's not a pretty sight. And that sort of character is itself is a life sentence.


  1. "Not necessaryily"

    are there cases where that kind of information should be available?

  2. Don't care about innocent till proven guilty the assholes are guilty, two women saying the same things, please they only reason the case wasn't taken earlier at the time, was because they were cops.
    They use their power to not investigate themselves, absolute dickheads

  3. Robert Winefield2 Mar 2007, 10:09:00

    The tricky part about Rape trials like this (when the evidence of the attack has healed or been washed away) is that it comes down to he said/she said.

    If the sexual history of the alleged victim is allowed into evidence (and I'm not sure if it was in these cases) so the jury can gauge the value of her word, then the criminal history of the alleged attacker should also be introduced if he takes the witness stand in his own defence. What's good for the goose.

    The question I ponder is whether the details of the previous rape, which the accused were convicted on, should have been allowed because it goes toward establishing the accused alleged modus operandi...

    But in the end, the public record will show what was admitted to in court and as PC says, that's a life sentance.

    I would be shocked if Rickards ever puts on the uniform of a senior policeman ever again. His is one job that depends on public trust.

    How could anyone he encounters during working hours ever trust him, or anyone he commands, to behave ethically and diligently? Especially if they happen to be young and female?


    "Mr Rickards' lawyer John Haigh said the jury would have been aware of the convictions of two of the defendants but had withstood media pressure in reaching their verdict.

    "No one in their right mind could believe that the jury didn't know about Shipton and Schollum's previous conviction.

    "And yet again they (the jury) focused on the evidence.""

    If that's true, and I'm not necessarily saying it is, then why don't we just tell the jury straight up?

    If the jury knew, and still came to the right decision based upon the facts of the case, then we should tell all juries all the evidence (and I use that term loosely) and trust them to make the right decision.

  5. Here's a copy of a letter written by my other half.

    Dear Minister

    I was horrified to read on the Stuff web site that a review of the police act is considering giving the police commissioner the power to sack officers suspected of committing crime.

    It is a fundamental part of our justice system that people are innocent of a crime until they have been found guilty by a court of law. The sacking of an officer who has not been convicted of a crime but merely suspected of a crime would be in direct contradiction to this cornerstone of our justice system.

    In addition, if this change was made I would strongly suspect that anyone suspected of a crime would make a formal complaint about any officer involved in the case in an attempt to avoid conviction. After all, what jury would not take strong note of a defense lawyer asking a police officer in court about disciplinary proceedings against them? This would subject countless officers to ill founded complaints wasting resources that could be applied to significantly better areas like crime prevention and law enforcement.

    The vast majority of our police officers are honest and law abiding. Where there are problem officers, they like everyone else in New Zealand should be subjected due process through the justice system. Of course in some circumstances officers may be suspended from duty but the overwhelming importance is that the justice system is applied to all and people are innocent until convicted.

    I urge you to strongly resist the overthrowing of the presumption of innocence.


  6. RR, please buy your partner a beer (or wine) for me!

  7. "Don't care about innocent till proven guilty the assholes are guilty, two women saying the same things..."
    No wonder you're commenting as "anonymous"--anyone with such a total misunderstanding of the concepts of justice and a fair trial ought to be too ashamed to put their name to a comment such as that.
    You know they're guilty, eh... you have information the jury lacked?
    And since when did two women saying the same things prove guilt? By that "standard" we'll be able to convict people of any crime on the basis of gossip at the local supermarket.
    I guess it would save the expense of trials...

  8. Great comment Crusader Rabbit - especially from someone who, just about every day, trolls the news wires and posts individual stories of crimes committed by immigrants (particularly Muslims), and then thinks that they've made a broader point.

    It's called argument by anecdote, one of the lowest (and most commonly invoked) forms of fallacious reasoning.

    Pleased you have seen the light.

  9. "just about every day" eh?
    perhaps you'd care to check that and let us know when was the last time I posted a story about a crime committed by an immigrant?
    Put up or shut up, anonymous.

    And "argument by anecdote" is also argument from sheer weight of evidence--if 95% of homicide bombings are by muslims, that ain't anecdotal--it's evidence of a deeply flawed ideology.
    And that's as far off topic as I'll be dragged in this comment thread.
    Again, (if you're the same Anonymous I directed my previous comments to--it's hard to know when all cowards share the same name) you have absolutely no idea of what the concept "innocent until PROVEN guilty means.

  10. Another "Anonymous" crap talking leftie who squeals RACIST the second anyone dares point out hes so full of it his eyes are brown.

    How refreshing.

  11. Murray, sometimes I look at stuff like used milk containers or soggy old teabags and think: 'now, if only someone could invent a use for those he'd make a fortune.."
    Same applies to anonymous lefties, I reckon...:-)

  12. Neither anonymous, nor a leftie.

    Just Ruth.

  13. aaaah I see...thanks PC.
    I take it back--for some things there is no possible
    never mind. :-)
    Enjoying the amazing Dunedin architecture here. Will go mad with camera over the next few days. Some of it though may be best described as "Early Jock Gothic"

  14. PC said...
    Just Ruth.

    Ruth, do you get enough at home? You like to stalk Peter Cresswell here at Not PC which is a sign that someone is feeling so horny.


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