‘The effects of wrongful convictions impact us all.’
Dr Xanthé Mallett is a forensic scientist and criminologist who has been based in Sydney since 2013. In this book, she looks at six specific cases where justice has failed. In five cases, men have been convicted of murder and have served time in prison. In each of these cases, there was a miscarriage of justice. I think that the most important points Dr Mallett makes are that miscarriages of justice can take many forms, and the criminal justice system does not always deliver justice.
‘We mostly forget about the wrongly accused and convicted when we think about victims of crime, but in this book I want to highlight some of their stories, because if it could happen to them it could happen to anybody.’
Staying with the first five cases, Dr Mallett demonstrates how the criminal justice system failed in each case. From false confessions and poor police work to contaminated evidence, from unreliable eyewitness accounts to dubious expert advice: there are many causes of failure. There are expert inserts included which provide additional information about legal procedures and forensic evidence. In two of the cases, involving an Aboriginal man and a man of Ethiopian heritage, racism seems to be a factor. Assumptions feed sloppy policework in one case, witness misidentification based on race seems a factor in the other.
Reading through each of these first five cases: Wayne Butler; Kevin Condren; Andrew Mallard; Henry Keogh and Khalid Baker is an eye-opener. I wondered how any of these men could have been convicted (found guilty beyond reasonable doubt) based on the information presented to the court. And then I remembered that what I was reading and what the jury had available to them were not the same.
The sixth case Dr Mallett covers is very different. This is the case of the infamous Lawyer X, Nicola Gobbo. This woman defended many of the criminals involved in Melbourne’s gangland war. While she was defending them, she was feeding information to the police about their criminal activities. She may also have been feeding information back to her clients about police activities. And so, it would seem that at least some of Ms Gobbo’s clients were denied a fair trial. Sigh. At least one client, Tony Mokbel, has appealed against his conviction. The implications for the Victoria Police Force are huge, and undoubtedly Ms Gobbo will be looking over her shoulder for the rest of her life.
I found this book disturbing, informative and thought-provoking and would recommend it to anyone interested in criminal justice.
2 thoughts on “Reasonable Doubt by Dr Xanthé Mallett”
Having been on a jury, I can vouch for the fact that getting it right can be a matter of luck. The prosecution case was that the thug had made statements that made a conviction for murder inevitable, and the most vocal of the jury went along with that. The rest, I think, didn’t care enough one way or the other. Some just wanted to get it over and done with so they could go home, one wanted it to stretch out because she had no other income at the time.
Common sense suggested to me that police don’t ask incriminating questions in the dark where they can’t see a suspect’s reaction, and the upshot was that he was convicted for manslaughter because intent to kill was not proven beyond doubt.
What we didn’t know then was that this thug had a long record of violent crime, and obviously the police were stretching the evidence so that they could get him locked up for a long time.
Was it justice? The family of the vulnerable old man probably didn’t think so.
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I’ve been summonsed for jury duty twice: the first time I wasn’t selected, the second time COVID-19 intervened. I am not sure whether I am relieved, or disappointed.