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Playing it Safe: Why You Should Hire a Lawyer Even if You’re Innocent

By Adam Higgins

If you are charged with any criminal offence, the police believe that they have ‘reasonable and probable grounds’ to believe you are guilty of that offence. The Crown Attorney’s office then prosecutes it; for them to prosecute it they need a ‘reasonable prospect of conviction’, and as well it needs to be in the public interest. Essentially the entire power of the State is against you. They believe you are guilty and are not going to drop the charges simply because you maintain that you didn’t do it. It is vital that you find your ‘champion’ to protect you from a wrongful conviction. The best plan is to fully research who to hire and then meet the potential choice(s). You will find that most criminal lawyers are good listeners.”
-Richard J. Aitken, J.D.

R. v. Mullins Johnson*: Mistakes of the Criminal Justice System

* Not a client of Aitken Robertson

In 1993 William Mullins-Johnson, then aged 22, was babysitting his 4 year old niece, Valin, for his sister-in-law. The following morning Bill was awoken to screams from his sister-in-law who had discovered Valin had died during the night. The doctors responsible for the autopsy concluded that Valin had been sexually assaulted and strangled, and the police proceeded to arrest, interrogate, and charge Mullins-Johnson. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole at 25 years. Mullins-Johnson professed his innocence throughout the entire process.

In 2007 Mullins-Johnson’s conviction was overturned and he was declared not-guilty by the Court.

In 2003 Innocence Canada had requested the samples taken during the autopsy be made available for an independent forensic pathologist to review. The doctor who had conducted the autopsy revealed that the samples had been sent to a second doctor, Charles Smith, and they had never been returned. The new Chief Forensic Pathologist for Ontario, Dr. Pollanen, spent over a year attempting to retrieve the samples but Smith did not cooperate. The samples, found on microscopic slides, were eventually recovered from his office.

Dr. Pollanen found that Smith had been completely incorrect in his findings. There was no evidence of sexual assault or strangulation. The evidence suggested the death was of natural causes without any malicious acts by another. With this evidence Mullins-Johnson was released on bail in 2005, and his conviction was overturned in 2007.

For 12 years Mullins-Johnson professed his innocence from his prison cell.

The State’s Position

The Crown has two major considerations when determining if they will pursue criminal charges: is there a high likelihood of conviction and is a conviction in the public good. Neither of these considerations involves the self-professed innocence of the charged individual. For Mullins-Johnson, the incorrect medical evidence convinced the Crown, and later the jury, of his guilt, and convicting someone they believed to be a murderer was within the scope of the “public good”. His maintained claim of innocence was insufficient to change their view.
It’s also imperative that you keep in mind the resources the state has at its disposal when pursuing the charges against you. A Crown Attorney has access to the governments funds, staff, police, forensic analysts, etc. In a criminal trial, regardless of your innocence, you are the underdog because you lack these resources.

Your Defence Lawyer Believes You

During Mullins-Johnsons, his family, like the Crown, believed the erroneous medical evidence and disbelieved his claims of innocence. If you’ve been charged with an offence you did not commit, it’s possible some of your family and friends disbelieve you as well. Your defence lawyer will not.

Since your communications with your lawyer are confidential and they cannot disclose anything you say to anyone else, your lawyer has no reason to suspect you would be dishonest with them. They trust you to be entirely upfront about the facts of your case because your honest recount of events helps them prepare your defence. If you are innocent but facing criminal charges, your defence lawyer will be in your corner throughout the entirety of your case.

Defence lawyers are also trained to protect their clients against the superior resources of the state. They understand the limitations of police power, what can be used to have evidence deemed inadmissible, and how to negotiate with the Crown. Simply professing your innocence is not enough to win a trial, you need a defence strategy, and that is exactly what a defence lawyer creates and executes on your behalf.

We Believe You

At Aitken Robertson we offer all those in need of a criminal defence lawyer a free 30-minute consultation so they can discuss with us the facts of their case. We will use this opportunity to explain what the possible outcomes of your case are and how much your defence will cost. During this consultation, we will believe you if you profess you are innocent. Once you retain our team, we will begin diligently reviewing the evidence the Crown has against you and building your defence strategy. Throughout this difficult time we will be in your corner to help protect you from being falsely labelled as guilty.

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