As someone who observes the criminal justice system, watching court proceedings, understanding mere fragments while seeing more than most, I am acutely aware of the endemic frustration from the public.
Sometimes what seems “obvious” to the observer, is not legally so. The difference between guilt and non-guilt can turn on a subtlety that makes heads spin.
In some circles, angry fists shake in the air about supposed short sentences as bumper stickers are slapped on vehicles blaming judges, politicians, anyone. Meanwhile, those in the legal system dutifully churn through case after case, mostly with bureaucratic banality as the nuances of legal proceedings undramatically unfold in courtroom, most left misunderstood by those in the gallery.
And rarely the twain shall meet.
So it is with little surprise when The Progress reports on the comings and goings of the court, sometimes high profile, sometimes low, that social media reactions express outrage, often rife with misunderstanding, at some outcomes.
This week I reported on the first of three people charged with an identify theft and credit card forgery ring in Harrison Hot Springs. The man was found not guilty.
Jered Donovan Sims was living in a townhouse where more than 100 identity documents were found, and a magnetic card reader/writer used to forge credit cards was found in his closet. The place was an obvious criminal operation, if a chaotic and crude one.
But Judge Peter LaPrairie found there was reasonable doubt the specific items in the room where Sims was staying were legally in his possession.
“Give me a break,” the lay observer may say, as a prolific offender living in a house used as a criminal operation is found not guilty?
The main tenants of the townhouse were Sims’ father, Lorne Sims, and Christina Stephan, both prolific offenders in their own right. Their trial is yet to come, and the young Sims’ indirect connection to the property is likely why his lawyer wanted a separate trial.
In reading his decision, Judge LaPrairie repeatedly made note of the extreme messiness of the townhouse, a reality that would help establish reasonable doubt regarding the legal definition of possession. If there is crap strewn everywhere and three or four people are living there, who knows whose is whose?
“To state that it was a mess is an understatement,” LaPrairie said.
Again, from the outside, it seems ludicrous that Jered Sims could be found not guilty. But he was in a house strewn with stolen documents, items that for all the court knows, may have all been there before he moved in.
Documents were found in the townhouse associated with reported property thefts from across the Lower Mainland.
“In total, 103 different identity documents [were found] throughout the residence,” LaPrairie said. “The police seized credit and debit cards, birth certificates, a death certificate, driver’s licences, employment records, all in the names of persons who were not tenants of the residence.”
Despite the overwhelming circumstantial evidence of the identity theft and credit card forgeries, LaPrairie said he could not specifically link Jered to any of it.
It may seem ridiculous and frustrating that someone so clearly tied to criminality by his past and by his current connections was found not guilty in this case on a legal technicality, but legal technicalities are critical to our system to ensure that only those found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt are convicted.
It make sense, legally and intellectually if one pays close attention.
Yet it is understandably frustrating for those outside the system to see that just because someone walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it doesn’t mean they are a duck, at least under the law.