The Innocence Project is a non-profit legal organisation committed to exonerating wrongly convicted people through the use of DNA testing and to reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld in the United States. It had led to the freeing of a lot of people wrongly convicted, based on DNA, and the finding of hundreds of the real perpetrators.
The Innocence Project is recommending a minimum of $50,000 per year for wrongful conviction, and a minimum of $100,000 per year for those wrongly put on death row. An example is Marty Tankleff, who, in 1988, was wrongly convicted at age 17 in New York for the murder of his parents, but was exonerated in 2007 at age 36, and was compensated in 2014 with an amount of $3,400,000.
To be falsely accused could be the most painful, and worse of all, is to receive punishment as a result of that false accusation. By the rules of justice, when such a person is exonerated, he or she needs to be compensated adequately to make up for the wrong punishment, especially, when it involves a jail term.
Teacher Eric Asante might have written his name into the case study books of administration of justice in Ghana. In 2005, he was slapped with a 15-year jail term for defiling a fourteen-year-old school girl. He kept screaming his innocence in this matter right through jail, appealing and losing in court, before landing in the highest court of the land. In 2017, he was acquitted and discharged by the Supreme Court, after a DNA report proved he was not the father of the child born of that school girl.
He went in for a compensation of GH¢7.1 million ($1.5 million) for mental damages, psychological and emotional trauma, and investment losses.
However, on May 30, 2018, the Supreme Court settled for GH¢45,000 ($9,478) as compensation. According to the highest court of the land, Mr Asante could not prove the reasons for which he was demanding that amount.
This verdict has been said to be completely unfair, and from the look of things, the courts failed Mr. Asante, since, from the High Court to the Appeal Court, DNA, the only thing that could prove his innocence, was not considered at all, with the school girl’s parents allegedly making things impossible in this aspect.
Now many Ghanaians are asking whether it was worthwhile, after all, to have demanded compensation from the state for taking some thirteen productive years of his life. The GH¢45,000 cannot even take care of his legal expenses.
What formed the minds of the Supreme Court judges in this matter cannot be easily comprehended, even if they explained this to the Republic.
Saying that Mr. Asante did not exhibit signs of mental damages, is like expecting him to go gaga in court, throwing tantrums and having to be restrained in a strait jacket. It is possible that some part of his mental faculty, which would cease to function properly, but it may not show now. Something in his brain, in his mind, could be shut down, temporarily or for good. We hear of soldiers returning from war in what could be said to be in good and normal shape, only to start exhibiting alien behaviours later.
A change of environment for that long, especially, in a situation where one had not anticipated, could affect one emotionally and psychologically, which, even though may not show, the justices should have been aware of.
What even shocked Ghanaians was for the judges to overlook the investment losses. Such losses cannot be overruled, since Mr. Asante certainly lost on monetary and social opportunities which cannot be quantified but must be compensated heavily for. Thirteen years could certainly have transformed his life from a poorly paid school teacher to a lawyer, a banker, a lecturer, a member of Parliament (MP) or a minister of state. Certainly, our sages at the highest court cannot claim to have lost sight of these opportunities.
In all this, what has shocked, and even angered most Ghanaians about this verdict, and what is seen as an insult, not only to Mr. Eric Asante, but to the divine virtue of justice, is that in some cases, some prominent persons in society won huge sums of monies in courts for damages to their reputations, and, here, Mr. Eric Asante’s reputation was most damaged here, because, in his case, he went to jail and suffered the stigma of becoming a jail bird for one of the worst crimes, defiling a minor.
Society is considering verdicts on damages for defamation, where Johnson Asiedu Nketia won GH¢250,000 against the Daily Guide; Addo Kufuor won GH¢40,000 against the National Democrat and GH¢68,000 against the Ghanaian Lens, and Hackman Owusu Agyemang also won GH¢800,000 against the Daily Post, and comparing what Mr. Eric Asante was awarded, its verdict is that the justice system is not fair to the poor and the unknown.
The school teacher experienced a more serious form of defamation. Two lower courts simply ignored DNA, which could have proved him innocent. This is unbelievable. But, when justice finally arrived, it came with a big piece of insult. The trauma, humiliation, psychological breakdown and mental torture he had while in prison, the stigma his family and closed associates suffered, considering what male teachers would also go through, and putting the entire teaching profession into disrepute, were not at all considered.
The award of GH¢288.46 per every single month lost was, indeed, much lower than his monthly salary. Such is a disappointment and disgrace in the face of justice, for even though I believe the above-mentioned politicians deserved what they got, in the case of Mr. Eric Mensah, it is clear that some people live by the law and others die by the law.
We need an Innocence Project here.
Hon. Daniel Dugan