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No third verdict: factually innocent.

William Mullins-Johnson spent 12 years in jail convicted of first-degree murder and sexual assault of his four-year old niece. He was convicted on the basis of pathology evidence that has since been entirely discredited. At a hearing in October, the Crown agreed that there should be an acquittal in Mr. Mullins-Johnson's case. His counsel went further, asking the court for not merely an acquittal but a declaration that Mr. Mullins-Johnson was factually innocent. The Ontario Court of Appeal, while highly sympathetic to the defendant, declined to create what it called a "third verdict" for two reasons. First, the Court stated that it did not have the jurisdiction to do so. It noted that criminal trials do not address factual innocence, and therefore appeal courts cannot either. It said, "There are not in Canadian law two kinds of acquittals: those based on the Crown having failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt and those where the accused has been shown to be factually innocent." Second, there are public policy issues. The Court worried that findings of factual innocence would degrade the meaning of a fending of "not guilty." The Court wrote, "To recognize a third verdict in the criminal trial process would, in effect, create two classes of people: those found to be factually innocent and those who benefited from the presumption of innocence and the high standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

R. v. Mullins-Johnson, 2007 ONCA 720 (CanLII)
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Title Annotation:Bench Press
Author:Mitchell, Teresa
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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