Friday, December 07, 2007

None So Blind as Those Who Will Not See

It’s hard for the mentally challenged to maintain a grip on reality on many occasions and it’s even more difficult for them to maintain objectivity and defer their judgements. For the normal person, and especially those normal people in positions of trust and or authority, the failure to maintain an open mind can have grave consequences for others. In the first case such errors are written-off to the condition of the ‘errer’, except when crime is involved. In the latter the mistakes are due to a ‘human error’, or ‘an honest mistake’. In either case to punish the person who made the mistake(s) is often beyond society’s power, or volition.

Some cases in point in the news of late.

The first relates to the months-old trial of Robert Picton, a pig farmer from BC accused of killing, dismembering and disposing of a significant number of “sex trade workers”. The case is now before the Jury and the evidence as presented is being weighed. Needless to say the police witnesses came off looking somewhat ‘Doowright-ish’ and the telling points against Picton came from habitues of his farm, who might, themselves, have been just as involved.

One of those with the ‘doors slammed shut’ is newspaper columnist Rosie DiManno. In her almost daily rants against Picton she tries to let her readers ‘feel the pain’ of prostitutes and those who survived them, and the hands of the wicked (substitute thesaurus entries for ‘guilty’) Robert Picton. If some errant bellhop dropped one of the newspapers carrying her ‘emoticons’ at a juror’s door by mistake, the trial might be derailed. She should save the screaming for a best-seller, after the verdict is in.

Another, on the other hand, could be the trial judge. In his haste, or whatever, to get the jury sequestered he “inadvertently” wasn’t as thorough as he should have been when preparing his instructions to them. Granted this was a lengthy and convoluted trial, but if it’s anybody’s job to ensure that evidence admitted is germane to the charge, it’s the Judge. If it’s anybody’s job to ensure that the digressions of the dramatic are minimized, it’s the Judge. If it’s anybody’s job to ensure that the jury are clear about what they are doing, it’s the Judge. If anybody in that room should maintain objectivity, it’s the Judge. Any less could be a miscarriage of justice.

We’ll have to see what happens to Picton.

Another recent case being inquired into, is that of a former Ontario provincial coroner Dr. Charles Smith, who made a career of seeing anybody related to a dead child face the courts. His ‘expert’ testimony jailed quite a few people for murdering their own, or another’s, child. A half dozen years back it was determined that his ‘expertise’ was largely verbal, as the medical part was often slipshod if not downright incompetent. He resigned and took his professional laurels to another job out west. In the interim, a number of convictions have been overturned after his testimony and the evidence he presented was reexamined by competent pathologists. The lawsuits and settlements will take years and millions to work out. Needless to say the doctor’s ‘human error’ hasn’t precluded his continued practice, or required him to face sanctions. The law might even protect him from lawsuits.

A third case of applied blinkers relates to a case involving the London (Ontario) police service and a young mother Erin O’Neill who was charged with murder a year ago after she fell down stairs while holding her infant child. Somehow the bozos in blue thought that she’d done it deliberate and so they set out to prove. She claims they had been affected by her ex-spouse and had adopted his notions of her. The result was: the better part of a year in custody including 114 days in solitary confinement, the loss of another child to Children’s Services, denial of access to family members, $400 000 in legal costs and all the mental and physical turmoil deriving from a case where the police think they have you dead to rights, but can’t prove it unless you confess. She didn’t, they couldn’t and yesterday the “Crown” withdrew the charges.

The judge admitted “some serious mistakes were made” but you can bet your bippy the ‘tec’ squad will continue to draw their pay and work toward their publicly-funded pensions. The Chief will continue to admire himself in an egg-salad laden shako with the nice ‘golden badges’. The force will continue to serve and protect and get annual budget increases. It would be nice to think that any damages Ms O’Neil might get out of them would make them any more objective about their work. It won’t. Somebody needs to look at that ‘Pleece service’ - three major ‘blips’ on their horizon in a year might be more than kismet.

And what protection do the innocent have from a Crown Prosecutor willing to go to trial with no evidence? There’s a man who might be better engaged at a lesser task. “ I was sure I had ‘er yer honour, by the short curlys, sir - but the investigators let me down! Egad!

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