Wrongful Investigation

While there are many honest and ethical law enforcement officials, there are also some who unfortunately commit misconduct with regard to the crimes that they are investigating. Not only do these law enforcement officials adversely impact the credibility of other honest officials, they can literally destroy the lives of persons who are wrongfully accused. There are those detectives who do not testify truthfully as well as arms of the law that manufacture, destroy, and/or hide evidence.  As in the case of Jeanette Ryken, a prior relationship existed between the Accuser and the police officers that resulted in collusion and bias against the Accused.  In addition there are those law enforcement officials who have improperly influenced witness identifications and confessions of suspects.  These are all examples of where the misconduct of investigators has resulted in wrongful convictions and multiple wrongful actions within the Justice system.

First responders to a crime are responsible for properly gathering, preserving, and documenting evidence that can later be used in a criminal prosecution of the crime’s perpetrator.  In Jeanette Ryken’s case, her Accusers involved multiple legal entities: Coast Guard, Homeland Security, FBI, the local Police and Immigration Officers. Jeanette’s “first responders” because of their friendly relationship with the Accuser were convinced of her guilt and proceeded to treat her as such, using extremely aggressive interrogation techniques, neglecting her Miranda rights and calling in the ‘Big Guns’, an officer known for his bullying tactics.  Officials who believe a suspect to be guilty of a crime may place undue and inappropriate pressure on the accused to confess to a crime that he or she did not commit.

The pressure to convict a suspect was widely publicized in the famous case of Susan Nelles, a nurse accused of murdering infants when mysterious deaths of babies occurred at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. Nelles’ lawyer Sopinka later wrote “a person wrongfully accused or convicted may have suffered the same social stigma, loss of liberty, loss of earnings, costs of defense, and possibly loss of family life that is suffered by the rightfully convicted accused who is responsible for his or her crime.” The procedural victory that allowed her case to proceed brought applause from the media for her courage to fight the system that wronged her and a chance to recover damages for the ordeal she suffered. The same ‘fallout’ of course happened in the Jeanette Ryken case which she describes so well in her Supplementary Affidavit of January 2016.

In a breakthrough Supreme Court of Canada case in 1995, three dissenting Judges held onto a guilty verdict in opposition to the six judges who upheld the Tort of wrongful police investigation.  The case involved an Aboriginal man who was arguing discrimination and it’s noted with some irony the Court stated a finding of “not guilty ” Is not a finding of “innocence.” There were twenty lawyers involved representing and supporting the Appellant as well as many approved interveners who opposed.  Opposition included Police Chiefs and Attorney Generals, who did not want a new Tort where the Accused or Convicted could sue Police for wrongful investigation.  Based on 1995 standards of police investigations of the time the Aboriginal man lost his case based on the facts of his circumstances rather than the improved higher investigation standards. After spending twenty months in jail, a new trial found him to be wrongfully convicted.  The original trial Judge excused the Police on the basis that they acted reasonably “in the frenzy of the moment,” based on the as yet unproven allegations that turned out to be false.

The Supreme Court Canada (SCC) posed the question (par 112): “the novel question before this Court is therefore whether the new Tort of negligent investigation should be recognized by Canadian law?” The Ontario Court of Appeal in 1995 referred to “negligent, incomplete and/or biased police investigation” but the SCC reduced it to one new Tort cause of action termed “negligent.” At that time no common law country including USA allowed a wrongful police investigation suspect to sue.  So Canada took the lead.

One of the three dissenting judges speaks to the legal relationship between the Investigator and the Investigated and the discretion of police to investigate. (2.42 par 132-136 pg 46- ‎47, par 158 pg 55).  The Court recognizes the misuse and abuse of the criminal process (par 182 pg 63). The process began with Accused being charged and convicted in 1995.  Beginning in 1996, after spending 20 months in jail, a new trial that led to an acquittal in 1999.

SCC upheld this new tort and upheld the acquittal in 2007, so took twelve years and all levels of Court to bring justice to this case.

Despite biased and improper investigation tactics resulting in multiple wrongful actions, hope possibly lies in the fact that these are now appealable issues.

The court referred to the guidelines for compensation for wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.  This case is a good example of when one wrongful accusation leads to additional “wrongfuls” of conviction and imprisonment.


References used in this article:

  1. jeanetteryken.com, August 24, 2018
  2. https://prism.ucalgary.ca/bitstream/handle/1880/49694/Bowal_Whatever_Nelles2011_LawNow.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y; pg 58 in the “Law Now” report/column ‘Follow Up On Famous Cases’..whatever happened in the Susan Nelles case Sept/Oct 2011′
  3. Hill v Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Police Services Board, Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) Oct 4 2007 decision cited at 2007 3 SCR 129
  4. https://resources.lawinfo.com/criminal-defense/police-misconduct-leading-to-wrongful-convict.html, August 25, 2018

1 reply added

  1. Link December 20, 2018 Reply

    Research in recent years has shown that wrongful criminal convictions are more prevalent than previously thought, and stem from flaws within the justice system, according to a panel of experts at the Law School’s 2009 Conference on Public Service and the Law.

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