Osgoode Hall Law School’s Innocence Project, which provides up to 10 Juris Doctor (JD) students every year with supervised clinical work on cases of suspected wrongful conviction, is the driving force behind a constitutional challenge over preservation of evidence in murder cases.
The students, who are supervised by Innocence Project Director and Professor Alan Young (left), filed an application last April asking that the Crown be compelled to retain all murder exhibits unless an inmate has approved their destruction or a court order has been obtained to authorize the destruction.
According to Young, the application was driven by frustration that the Innocence Project had “to abandon a lot of cases due to the inability of the state to locate or find the evidence needed for us to reinvestigate.”
Ontario Superior Court Judge Edward Belobaba ruled earlier this month that the Innocence Project’s application – launched in the name of Amina Chaudhary, 46, who is serving a life sentence for the Feb. 3, 1982 murder of eight-year-old Rajesh Gupta – was too broad and unmanageable. However, the judge did not throw out the constitutional challenge as the federal government had requested. Instead, he said the challenge can proceed if it is scaled down and pertains only to evidence in murder cases. Next step for the Innocence Project will be to amend the statement of claim in the case, which will likely be heard next year.
Young credits then second-year Osgoode students Ashley Audet, Kathleen Beahen and Leila Mehkeri with doing the research last year for the original application. “They chronicled all the problems and the various preservation of evidence policies in Canada,” Young said. “In April, before the school term ended, we completed the work and we filed.”
This year, second-year JD students Noah Schachter and Genevieve Trickey were responsible for responding to the government’s motion to strike the claim. “They prepared the factum pretty much on their own with very little guidance from me,” Young said.
“If we win this case, it will not only be a victory for the Innocence Project, but governments will have to come up with a more unified and comprehensive regime of evidence preservation for all types of offences,” says Young. “Right now every police force, every court house and every lab maintains their own policies about preservation of evidence. Nobody works together; the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”