How to appropriately and fairly carry out criminal justice matters is something that every country struggles with. A major reason for this struggle is the fallibility of the justice system. It is acceptable to concede that the possibility of human error in every case and investigation may lead to a wrongful conviction. In the case of David Milgaard, however, Canada's Criminal Justice System not only erred, but failed grievously, resulting in millions of dollars wasted, in a loss of public confidence in the system, and most tragically, in the robbery of two decades of one man's life. Factors including, but not limited to, the social context at the time of the crime, the social perception of deviance, the influence of the media, and the misconduct of investigating police and prosecution played a substantial role in the subsequent miscarriage of justice.
Much of society mistakenly interchanges the two concepts of crime and deviance, assuming that they are one in the same. "A crime is what the law proclaims it to be, and is an act punishable by law" (Winterdyk 9). Deviance, on the other hand, is a contested concept; it can be defined as differing from a norm or accepted standard of society (dictionary.com). Deviance involves acts that fluctuate from social norms; although such actions can be, they are not necessarily against the law (Winterdyk 9).
Society often constructs views, and perceives certain individuals or groups as deviants and as threats to established moral standards and values. Perfectly exemplifying such views can be seen in the wrongful conviction of seventeen-year-old hippie, David Milgaard, in 1969, for the rape and murder of Gail Miller. Then, as now, teenagers and especially hippies are seen as liminal in society. Groups who are perceived as liminal are often viewed as threats, ultimately creating moral panics. As a result of these moral panics, it is extremely safe to label such individuals as those engaging in criminal activity.
Labeling played an important role in the initial arrest of David Milgaard. Police officers, as members of society, often use character discrimination in identifying suspects. Unfortunately, the police likely began the investigation with a particular image of the suspect in mind, an image established by the elite members of society whom essentially determine what a deviant is. Regrettably, David Milgaard happened to fit the mold. The stigma that Milgaard would carry for next twenty-seven years of his life would be that of a rapist and murderer. The issue with labeling is that Milgaard felt no one would ever look at him in any other way than as a criminal. This was affirmed by the rejection of his final appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. As a result, Milgaard attempted numerous times to escape prison and commit suicide; he felt as though society had given up on him. Ironically, his escape from prison was his only actual criminal act, but it led to an even greater public perception...