No Defence

Innocence Is No Defence

For many people, being questioned in relation to a serious crime is not, initially, something to be afraid of. They proceed on the basis of the old maxim “I’ve done nothing wrong, so I have nothing to fear.” What these people don’t realise is that a police investigation does not, necessarily, exist to clear the innocent and find the guilty. It exists to allow the police access to enough information to secure a conviction. There is a big difference.

If the police have decided, often quite arbitrarily, on a “suspect,” they will systematically gather information which backs up their decision, even if that person is innocent. Information, for example, pointing to other suspects, will either be ignored or discounted as “irrelevant” because it does not fit with the picture the police are trying to piece together. Indeed, in many cases, the “investigation” becomes an exercise in finding “evidence” to back up only one line of “suspicion”, and other areas are simply not investigated at all.

Innocent people try very hard to help the police by giving them as much information, however small or seemingly innocuous, believing that nothing they say can in any way incriminate them, because they haven’t done anything wrong in the first place. They will backtrack, remembering small details…. “I went from the house to Joe’s, and then onto Billy’s at eight o’clock.” Later, they might say, “No, wait, I’ve just remembered, after Joe’s, I had to come back here because I’d left my phone at home.”

The first sense of unease may begin when the police start to question this “change” in the story. Why did you tell us you went straight to Billy’s? Why didn’t you tell us you’d gone home? Was anybody in your house to confirm that you went there? The only answer an innocent person can give is “I forgot,” but the police won’t accept that. Still trying to explain themselves, an innocent person may then go on to try to provide explanations as to why they forgot, digging themselves into a deeper hole from the police perspective.

Still, though, people believe that the system will, sooner or later, highlight their innocence, and even if they have become a little uneasy about the line the police questioning is taking, they are still fairly confident that someone, somewhere will realise the police are on the wrong track, and it’s all just a big mistake.

Then they are arrested. At this stage, the shock and bewilderment are overwhelming. Many wrongfully convicted people can’t wait for the trial. The police, they reason, have got it all totally wrong, and a trial will show it. When the evidence comes out in court, it will become clear that the police constructed a case against the wrong person.

What they don’t realise is that the information the police have gathered may very well “substantiate” the prosecution claims. That being the case, questions will not be asked in court about other possible areas of investigation, or other possible suspects, because neither of those have anything to do with the case being tried in court.

Only when the foreman of the jury stands up and says “Guilty” do these people realise that no-one is coming to rescue them. No-one cares that the wrong person is in the dock, or that an innocent person has just been convicted. All that matters is that a conviction has been secured.

Innocence is no defence. In fact, being innocent is one of the biggest handicaps to the defence of an innocent person, because their ignorance of the system and how it works is used against them, time and time again.

Sandra Lean

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