Perhaps one of the most valuable and important aspects of life is one’s right to liberty and freedom. Canada itself as a nation emphasizes the importance of being free to lead any type of life you want, under reasonable grounds of course. With The Constitution Act of 1982 backing you up, one would and definitely should feel safe about the fact that the law will protect you from anything that might potentially infringe your right to liberty and freedom. Despite having the beloved Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there have been many cases in the past where people that were innocent and harmless were convicted for crimes they have never committed. For these people, they have no life to lead as they spend years after years in a prison cell while the guilty walk free. Although not frequently seen, a wrongful conviction is still a wrongful conviction. An innocent person is being denied their rights to have a meaningful life simply because our justice system failed to prove his innocence.
Investigations can be considered the most important phase of solving a crime as it identifies any evidence related to the criminal responsible for the crime that has been committed. Unfortunately, despite never having any real evidence, many innocent people still end up being people falsely convicted. Many times, the innocent are convicted solely off of circumstantial evidence which in simpler terms can be described as being convicted on the assumption that they are guilty. One of the most horrendous cases where wrongful conviction is involved can be seen through the case of Robert Baltovich. This is the sad truth about many wrongful convictions and in the end, shows a much darker side of Canada’s justice system (Canadian Cases, 2018). This report critically analyses the case based on three theoretical concepts of false conviction, eyewitness memory, and police investigation and interrogation.
A perfect example of circumstantial evidence getting an innocent man convicted is the case of Robert Baltovich. Some quick background about the case: Robert Baltovich’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Bain left one day to check tennis schedules at the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto and never returned home. Her body was never found but the police eventually found her car which contained her blood on one of the seats, as proven by DNA testing. The police soon charged Baltovich with her murder despite having only circumstantial and no real evidence. The evidence was delivered by a few unreliable eyewitnesses who thought that they had seen Baltovich with Elizabeth on the day of her disappearance. The crown argued that Elizabeth had broken up with him and Baltovich’s rage drove him to kill her. Robert Baltovich however, had an alibi for that day and many of his family members confirmed that he was indeed with his family on the day Elizabeth disappeared. Despite the case being in favor of Baltovich’s defense, the jury’s verdict still ended up declaring him as guilty. Due to this, Robert Baltovich was sentenced to life in prison where he spent his next eight years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
When analyzing this case as a reasonable human being, all the facts show Robert Baltovich as an innocent human being. The crown witnesses themselves were not sure of their testimony and what they saw on the day Elizabeth disappeared. So why was there a case against Baltovich in the first place? But it can be seen clearly that just because Robert Baltovich was close to the victim, Elizabeth Bain, and the crown convincingly made the jury believe that Elizabeth and Baltovich were having issues in their relationship, people would assume that Robert Baltovich would be most likely to kill her. But there is a difference between ‘most likely’ and ‘definitely.’ Baltovich said that their relationship was better than ever and both had no conflict with each other before Elizabeth’s disappearance. Elizabeth’s mother herself testified that the two had certainly been in love for a long time now and Robert Baltovich would never do such a thing. When so many factors present Robert Baltovich as innocent, how is it remotely possible for him to be charged? This makes one seriously question Canada’s justice system as such mistakes should never occur.
Looking back, the root problem of this wrongful conviction is the police. They failed to discover any direct evidence related to the real culprit of the crime and decided to take the easier route and blame someone likely to commit the crime. With a few unreliable eyewitnesses and a good crown lawyer, it seems that any innocent person can get convicted. After eight years, it was found that the killer of Elizabeth had most likely been Paul Bernardo, aka the Scarborough Rapist, who was charged with multiple violent sexual assaults (Harland- Logan, 2018). Baltovich was exonerated after the arrest of Paul Bernardo. However, those are still eight precious years of an innocent man gone and Robert Baltovich was never the same again. Robert Baltovich was stuck in a nightmare for years as not only did he get wrongfully convicted but it was under the charge of murder for the woman he loved and deeply cared about.
In Robert’s case, he was wrongfully convicted due to many errors in the trial proceeding that took place in March 31st, 1990, from not having enough evidence, to being unfairly processed due to bias judgment from the judge and jury, the judge failed to comply with his jobs and be neutralized into seeing both Crown and defendants case to determine a final decision, the Judge failed to do their duty completely, for not asking enough evidence in a murder trial, looking over the defendants' charges, basing the final verdict on simply eyewitness testimonies that to all was not enough for conviction and evidence and failure to demand more accurate evidence that will show Robert’s culpability of Elizabeth’s Murder (Oakes & Davies, 2011). The Judge should have explained the jury what is expected of them and should not have led the jury into a conclusion. He should have asked for a more thorough investigation before convicting Robert.
As stated before, Robert’s case was based on unreliable eyewitness testimony. The Toronto Police and prosecution had no real evidence on the accused for the murder and or disappearance of Elizabeth Bain. The only evidence held against him was the testimony from four witnesses who saw Elizabeth or Robert on the day of her disappearance. The major issues in the eyewitnesses testimonies were not subjected to the man (Robert Baltovich) who was supposedly seen by these people. The two main witnesses were Marianne Perz and David Dibben testimonies. Marianne testified to seeing Robert and Elizabeth at a picnic table on campus at 5:40 in the afternoon the day of Bain’s disappearance. She stated in her testimony that she had a fuzzy recollection of the man she saw with Elizabeth that day and could not recall any specific physical traits of the man (R. v. Baltovich, 2004 CanLII 45031 (ON CA), 2004) which would have been hard for to find Robert culpable for the murder and disappearance of Bain if no exact details were given to identify one specific person. David, as the second most important testimony, once again, testified to “not paying attention” at the time of the sighting.
He alleged to have seen Robert driving Elizabeth’s car on June 22nd, who as evidence for Bain’s murder, her DNA (blood) was found on the back seat of her car three days after her disappearance; during his testimony, it was stated that he just like Marianne, did not have a clear vision of the driver in Elizabeth’s car that day, most importantly, his description of the driver was not accurate nor a match for Robert Baltovich. With this much information, both eyewitnesses would have been used for evidence at a trial since they were not a good match for a positive witness in a trial, despite all the facts for these testimonies not being liable, both Marianne and David went through hypnosis about a month after allegedly seeing Elizabeth on June 19th with Robert.
A human memory decays after time, based on research done, the human memory slowly decays after time, for a human memory to hold the truthful facts of an incident, the person testifying should be interviewed right after when the incident happened, to avoid crossing any other memories put together the day of the incident by the witness subconsciously (Ogloff & Cronshaw, 2001). In Marianne’s case, through the month before she underwent hypnosis to attempt sharpening her memories, she had already seen an article from the Toronto Sun that suggested Robert to be a suspect and included a photo of him; she also had spent time with the Bain family who suggested that Robert, had killed her. Seeing a picture of Robert and reading he was a suspect, subconsciously made the witness collect different memories from different occasions and put it as one whole event (the day she saw a male with Elizabeth before her disappearance) under hypnosis in an attempt to sharpen her memories.
Hypnosis can be a good and bad thing, however, in most cases, hypnosis is not the most reliable source in an attempt to sharpen someone’s memories for a trial. Hypnosis is one of the most dangerous techniques for memory enhancement, any increase of memory can also increase the chances of imagination and or inaccurate memories (Tuite, Braun & Frischholz, 1986). In Canada, The Supreme Court has made a clear statement that hypnosis is not accurate and is a dangerous technique that should not take place in any criminal prosecution (Harland- Logan, 2018). Thus, the testimonials based on the hypnosis should not have been considered and the investigations should have been carried to look for more witnesses who have been sure.
Police investigation and interrogation were another flaw in Robert Baltovich’s case, wherein the police believed that Baltovich had killed Elizabeth Bain. They are alleged that Baltovich hid the body, early morning 22nd June, disposed of the body in the Lake Scugog, and returned to Toronto. This theory was not based on the real evidence however on the circumstantial belief of the police investigators. Additionally, the lawsuit of Robert Baltovich accuses the Crown and police of being in rush to conclude, failing to disclose the information which could have proven the innocence of Baltovich and ignoring the evidence which pointed to the Scarborough rapist. The forensic report had stated that the blood recovered in the car had not decomposed and there was no odor in the car as stated in the police theory. This important piece was ignored by the investigating Police. None of the evidences produced could not be proven in court, as the police investigation and interrogation were flawed and untenable.
Canadian Cases: R v Baltovich 2004 73 OR (3d) 481. (2018). Retrieved from http://netk.net.au/Canada/Baltovich.asp
Harland- Logan, S. (2018). Robert Baltovich - Innocence Canada. Retrieved from http://www.innocencecanada.com/exonerations/robert-baltovich/#ftn9
Oakes, A., & Davies, H. (2011). Process, Outcomes, and the Invention of Tradition: the Growing Importance of the Appearance of Judicial Neutrality. LexisNexis Academic, 1.
Ogloff, J., & Cronshaw, S. (2001). Expert psychological testimony: Assisting or misleading the trier of fact?. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 42(2), 87-91.
v. Baltovich, 2004 CanLII 45031 (ON CA). (2004). Retrieved from https://www.canlii.org/en/on/onca/doc/2004/2004canlii45031/2004canlii45031.html#
Tuite, P., Braun, B., & Frischholz, E. (1986). Hypnosis and Eyewitness Testimony. Psychiatric Annals, 16(2), 91-95. DOI: 10.3928/0048-5713-19860201-09
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