A man who spent six months in prison for a crime he could not possibly have committed suffered a “miscarriage of justice,” NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine said in the Legislature on Monday.
The Manitoba Court of Appeal acquitted Richard Joseph Catcheway, who had pleaded guilty to breaking into a Winnipeg home on Sept. 9, 2017, even though at the time he was an inmate at Brandon Correctional Centre.
“The legal system failed Mr. Catcheway. Neither the prosecutor, nor the defence, or anyone else in the justice system, spotted the obvious truth. It was impossible for Mr. Catcheway to commit this crime,” Fontaine said.
Catcheway suffers from fetal-alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and drug addiction, Fontaine said.
A few weeks after Catcheway’s guilty plea in November, the sentence administrator at Brandon Correctional Centre sent a letter to counsel telling them that Catcheway could not have committed the crime.
On May 10, the Court of Appeal ruled unanimously to allow Catcheway to withdraw his plea and quashed his conviction.
“We are all of the view that, in light of the fresh evidence that conclusively proves the accused’s innocence, it would understandably be a miscarriage of justice to uphold his guilty plea,” the judges wrote in the ruling.
Fontaine asked what steps the government is taking to prevent similar cases. Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said the ongoing review of the justice system will seek to address these issues.
“This is obviously a very unfortunate incident,” Stefanson said. “I will say from the system standpoint, we want to always look at ways to improve the system and improve communication in the criminal justice system.”
Stefanson said the government inherited a backlogged system from the previous NDP administration, which is why they ordered the system-wide review.
Fontaine said the province risks more similar cases because it froze funding for Legal Aid.
“An overloaded and underfunded Legal Aid system opens the door to a miscarriage of justice,” the NDP MLA said.