Student Profile: Riley

The Bridge of Hope Innocence Initiative thrives off the work of our students and volunteers. This series will profile some of the students involved in reviewing claims of factual innocence. Want to get involved? Read this.

How did you get involved in the Innocence Initiative?

I became involved with the Innocence Initiative through my studies of a Bachelor of Criminal Justice at RMIT. I started working here as part of my 50 day placement because it was highly recommended to me by my fellow classmates and other teachers at RMIT.

What do you do?

My role within the Innocence Initiative is to review new applications and to evaluate whether these case fits within our ambit. I am also involved in the reinvestigation of the cases that we are working on as well as other various projects.

What are the most enjoyable aspects of reviewing cases?

There are so many enjoyable aspects in reviewing our cases, the first of which is the investigative work and using our critical thinking to come up with other potential possibilities. Working together as a team has also made it quite enjoyable as we all get to share all our own thoughts and theories. Reviewing new cases is also exciting because we get to use our “gut feeling” and is a good way to break up our work by looking at a fresh case.

What are the most difficult aspects of reviewing cases?

The most difficult aspect of reviewing cases is the amount of reading required to evaluate all of the case material. Sometimes there can be hundreds of documents, some of which can be quite boring and lengthy. Finding a way to break up this work is the best way to overcome its repetitiveness.

Has undertaking this internship changed your view of the criminal justice system?

Working at the Innocence Initiative has definitely challenged my own assumptions about our criminal justice system. It has taught me not to take everything at face value and to apply my critical thinking skills to evaluate thing more deeply. It has also emphasised the importance of integrity and open mindedness in all aspects of the criminal justice system such as investigations and the courts.


Unknown Unknowns, Disclosure and the Keli Lane Case

As US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld once said in relation to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq:

There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know.

Underneath this garbled explanation is a key point on the nature of evidence in criminal trials from a defendant’s perspective: there is evidence that makes you look bad, evidence that makes you look good and evidence you don’t even know about.

Not knowing evidence impacts the basic right of every defendant to receive a fair trial. It’s why police and prosecutors have a comprehensive duty of disclosure to alleviate the stark imbalance in resources that exists.

However, as Innocence Initiatives academics Michele Ruyters, Greg Stratton and myself noted last year – it’s hard to know how frank police and prosecutors are being when it comes to evidence, and this poses a real risk of wrongful convictions.

The Keli Lane Case

As seen in ABC’s Exposed docu-series, one of the Innocent Initiative’s applicants is Keli Lane – the former water polo player who was jailed in 2010 for killing her baby daughter Tegan two days after giving birth.

Ms Lane has maintained her innocence and claimed she gave Tegan to the child’s biological father.

As part of Innocence Initiative and ABC investigations it has been noted that there are key gaps in the evidence disclosed to the defence in Ms Lane’s case by NSW Police.

In particular, NSW Police secretly recorded thousands of Lane’s conversations via phone intercepts and listening devices between 2004 and 2008 – most of which were never disclosed to the defence.

The Innocence Initiative is now working through legal options to access the undisclosed material. NSW Police has refused all attempts to access the material through freedom of information requests. As such, Michele Ruyters has now applied to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Ms Lane’s behalf for a review of that decision.

Why It Matters

Most of the evidence gathered during police investigations is of little relevance to proving or disproving guilt. Nevertheless, only through close deciphering of evidence by prosecutors and defence lawyers can that judgment call be made.

In the 1995 wrongful conviction of Andrew Mallard, it was revealed that the prosecution had not disclosed crucial evidence to the defence which indicated Mallard’s innocence.

Mallard spent 12 years in prison before being exonerated when another man’s palm print was found during a cold-case review. He was later given an A$3.25 million compensation payment by the WA government.

Only through a clear and transparent process of investigation and prosecution can we ensure that justice is served in criminal trials.

Written by Jarryd Bartle