By Donna Laframboise, Toronto Star, 8 February 1993
In 1967, a jury wrongfully convicted Rubin "Hurricane" Carter of the murder of three people in a New Jersey bar. Sentenced to life imprisonment, his chance at the world middle-weight boxing title vanished.
While incarcerated, he was refused outside medical attention and a botched operation left him blind in one eye. In total, he spent 19 years of his life behind bars before his conviction was thrown out in 1985.
Last Monday, Rubin Carter - who has since made Canada his home - met with Guy-Paul Morin at the Toronto Don Jail. Afterward, he spoke out publicly about why he has joined the campaign to have Morin released on bail pending his appeal. (Morin was acquitted of sexually assaulting and murdering Christine Jessop, his 9-year-old neighbor, at his first trial in 1986. Last summer, a second jury convicted him.)
Says Carter, "Prison is a terrible, terrible place. It affects and infects every fibre of your being and once you've spent time there, you'll never be the same again. When there's a conviction shrouded in so much doubt as is the case with Guy-Paul Morin, justice, compassion and human decency demand that he be allowed to remain at liberty until his appeal is finally decided."
Carter points out that there are important parallels between his case and Morin's. In both instances, key witnesses were criminals with extensive records who "had everything to gain and nothing to lose" by agreeing to testify for the prosecution.
As well, in both cases, the prosecution failed to share important information with defence lawyers. One of the reasons Carter's conviction was finally quashed was because, in the words of the judge, the case against him had been based on "concealment rather than disclosure."
In Novenber 1991, Justice John Sopinka, of the Supreme Court ruled in a watershed decision, today referred to by lawyers simply as "Stinchcombe". injusticebusters.org
"The fruits of an investigation which are in the possession of the Crown are not the property of the Crown for use in securing a conviction, but are the property of the public to be used to ensure that justice is done. The material must include not only that which the Crown intends to introduce into evidence, but also that which it does not. No distinction should be made between inculpatory and exculpatory evidence. If the information is of some use, then it is relevant. The determination as to whether it is sufficiently useful to put into evidence should be made by the defence and not the prosecutor."
Non-disclosure has been a constant problem since Morin was arrested eight years ago. Indeed, had the Supreme Court of Canada been aware of the numerous pieces of evidence that would later come to light, it may never have overturned Morin's acquittal in the first place.
In order for lawyers to defend their client properly, they need access to any and all information which points toward that client's innocence. Morin's lawyers have been denied a great deal of this information.
Instead, they have had to stumble on it, often years after the fact. Sometimes, as in the case of other suspects, by the time they found out about it, it was too old to be of much use.
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter knows from first hand experience the kind of injustice which non-disclosure can lead to in criminal trials. It's one of the reasons he's alarmed by the Guy-Paul Morin case. And it's one of the reasons you should be, too.