James Patrick Driskell - Wrongful Conviction

May 26, 2021
James Patrick Driskell
Driskell spent 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

In 1991 Canadian James Patrick Driskell, was wrongfully convicted for the first-degree murder of his friend Perry Harder. Driskell was running a “chop shop” with Harder, where they allegedly cut apart stolen vehicles and sold the parts. In November 1989, police learned about the chop shop, searched it, and arrested both Driskell and Harder. They were both charged with various criminal offences, including possession of stolen property. Harder decided to take a plea deal that the prosecution had offered him. He planned to plead guilty to some of his charges, in exchange for a relatively short prison sentence of two to three years. On June 21, 1990, Harder failed to attend court to enter his guilty pleas as agreed. The police were unable to locate him, and eventually the charges against James were dropped. Three months later Harder’s body was found in a shallow grave. The coroners report demonstrated that he had been killed by two gun shots wound to his chest. Shortly after Driskell was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. The Crown's theory was that Driskell had committed the murder in order to prevent Harder from testifying against him. The only physical evidence linking Driskell to the crime were three hairs  found in his van, that the Crown argued, belonged to the victim, as well as damning witness testimony. Driskell spent twelve years in prison. He maintained his innocence throughout his order. Fifteen years following his wrongful conviction, with assistance from the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, Driskell was able to get the evidence that lead to his conviction reviewed.  Upon review, DNA tests showed that not only did the hairs in fact not belong to Harder, but they weren't even related to each other. Driskell's lawyers, Jack Lockyer and Alan Libman both prominent defence lawyers working with the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted  were able to reveal problematic witness testimony, as key Crown witnesses had been paid large sums of money by the police to provide testimony against Driskell.

On 3 March 2005, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada  Irwin Colter used a special provision of the Canadian Criminal Code   to overturn Driskell’s conviction and stay the charges against Driskell. Ultimately Driskell was never retried for the murder of Harder. Instead a stay of proceedings and called for a public inquiry ended Driskell's conviction without exonerating him. The Commission of Inquiry Into Certain Aspects of the Trial and Conviction of Driskell began April 4, 2006. Commissioner was The Honourable Patrick LeSage, Q.C. The inquiry was completed, and the findings and recommendations of the Inquiry were provided to Attorney General of Manitoba, Dave Chomiak, on January 30, 2007. In 2008, Driskell was awarded over $4 million compensation for his ordeal from the Manitoba government and the City of Winnipeg. As fortunate as it is that Driskell was able to secure financial compensation, he expressed that no amount of money could give him back the 13 years he spent in jail, away from his family.

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