Judges Changing Their Minds about Guilt

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Judge using a gavel

Imagine being a Magistrate or Judge and having to decide cases on a daily basis. It is huge responsibility – making decisions that can have a significant impact on a person’s life.

It goes without saying that you would want to make sure that your decision was right. So what happens if a Judge or Magistrate, after making their decision, thinks they got it wrong?

While unusual, this is precisely what happened in the case of Lamar Griffith.

R v Griffith:

In 2011, Judge David Aston of the Canadian Superior Court of Justice found a defendant, Lamar Griffith, guilty of several gun-related offences and adjourned the case for sentencing.

But by the sentencing date three months later, the Judge changed his mind and decided that the defendant was not guilty.

In acquitting the defendant, the Judge stated:

“On December 21st I concluded that, ‘with the exception of the fingerprint on the gun, any other doubts I have are based on speculation or conjecture rather than any evidence or lack of evidence; I was wrong, I considered the totality of the evidence from the Crown’s perspective, but I did not give equal treatment to the defence perspective. To convict Mr Griffith raises the risk of a grave injustice. The Crown has presented a strong case but I can no longer say in good conscience that I’m sure the gun was in the possession of Mr. Griffith. I must find him not guilty and I’m going to make that change in the verdict.”

The prosecution appealed, arguing that the Judge was not allowed to reopen the case in this way. On appeal, the court found that Judges can only change their decisions about guilt in exceptional circumstances; but that this was indeed one of those situations.

The appeal court further found that a judge who did not believe that a defendant was guilty could not be forced to determine the sentence, as this could bring the judicial system into disrepute.

The Power of Character Evidence

Judge Joyce Eubanks of Philadelphia, USA, found a defendant guilty of stealing around $14,000 worth of jewellery. But just a few days later, the Judge changed her mind after reconsidering the evidence of 15 character witnesses who testified on the defendant’s behalf – including a former police commissioner.

The Judge vacated (cancelled) the verdict and found the defendant ‘not guilty.’ But there was a problem – the law of the state was that “the hearing judge has no right, after a finding of guilty, to change his mind… and enter a finding of ‘not guilty.’ “

The original verdict of guilty was therefore reinstated.

Appealing a Decision

There do not appear to be any Australian examples of judges changing their minds after a verdict.. But if you are unhappy with the result in court, you may be able to appeal either the verdict or the sentence.

If your case was dealt with in the Local Court you have the right to appeal to the District Court, which must be done within 28 days, or within 3 months if you have a good reason for the delay.

If you are unhappy about a result of a District or Supreme Court trial or sentence, you can appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal, and from there, a small number of cases are appealed to the High Court.

If you have questions about appealing your court case, you may wish to contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer for advice about your prospects of success.

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Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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