A couple of years ago, I was watching the lunchtime edition of BBC News, where a story came up that caught my attention instantly – The story of Glenn Ford, a convicted death row inmate in America who, after new evidence came to light, was freed from prison after 30 years. WOW. So he was found to be innocent after major flaws took place during his trial. To be found guilty and then to be handed a death sentence by the judge when you know you are innocent would certainly spark the absolute fear in me.
So for the back story Glenn Ford was convicted of the murder of a jeweller whom he used to do odd jobs for. Throughout his trial the following injustices took place:
– Glenn Ford had an inexperienced legal team – one of them had been out of law school for two years dealing with small vehicle accident insurance claims and the other was an expert in oil and gas laws and had never presented a case to a jury before.
– The jury was all white – The Guardian (where I have read about this case) states that the prosecution team had carefully selected the jury. Glenn Ford is an African American man.
– There was no eyewitnesses to the crime nor was there a murder weapon
– The prosecution largely relied on the witness statement of a girlfriend of another man suspected of murdering the jeweller in this case. This witness did admit to lying about her testimony under cross-examination.
– The expert evidence given was at best speculative and inconclusive (although this opinion came up after the trial)
So if all of the above applied to you in a court of law, you would think that the jury and judge would take the view of you being innocent till proven guilty right? Looking at this case, this definitely did not apply to Glenn Ford. What was icing on top of this injustice was the fact that even though he was found guilty, he was given the death penalty – the most extreme of sentences.
There are certainly two issues here; the fact that Glenn Ford wasn’t really treated as innocent throughout his case and, the in proportionate sentence that was handed down to him.
Laws and rules are put into place to be followed to ensure fairness, a characteristic which is needed in a system seeking justice. Whether that person is actually innocent or guilty, the system set up to look at this should take the view of innocence first rather than guilt. The point of the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ approach is to stop any innocent person being prosecuted and put into jail or committed to death. Everyone has the right to life whether that’s put into law or not. We are human after all and our liberty is very much a right that should be upheld fairly when our morals and actions are questioned. In this case, this just did not happen. Too many inconsistencies and a cowboy prosecution and defence team did not approach this case as ‘innocent until proven guilty’. The judge also didn’t approach it in the same way, handing down the most severe sentence. Yes the jury saw him guilty, but clearly the judge had made up his own mind during the trial too and treated him as someone who had committed a crime rather than looked at what was being presented or well wasn’t being presented.
There are legal systems in other countries which use the approach ‘guilty until proven innocent’. I obviously don’t agree with this as I believe you end up commending more than ensuring innocent people’s interests are protected. The one thing these legal systems do that our own and well America’s doesn’t which is crucial to whether innocent people end up guilty, is the fact that the trial process is about establishing the truth, rather than like our court systems where a case is won on the best argument given. If you are establishing the truth (which also doesn’t involve a jury, only a judge who is hands on with the entire case) the likelihood is you won’t convict anyone innocent and only those who are guilty, particularly as these types of legal systems the onus is on the defence to prove innocence. If you are looking to put the best possible case forward having a strong legal argument, are you really establishing the truth or just winning on technicalities? Surely this isn’t the justice society is looking for? Winning on technicalities or having the better argument?
Gee I could really write an essay on this sort of stuff if I wanted to! Looking at Glenn’s situation, I really don’t feel that whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ applied to him. The fact he sat on death row for 30 years while continuously pleading his innocence is absolutely astonishing in my mind. I just hope for him he is able to build a life and use his experience in a positive way.
What are your thoughts on innocent until proven guilty? What about capital punishment? Are legal systems really looking to seek the truth and therefore justice?
Should you want to read more on Glenn Ford, take a look at this article in The Guardian.
Image curtsey of: Life of the law