With appeal imminent, it's not yet 'case closed' for prominent Sudbury murder case
Appeals can take years and when successful, usually lead to a new trial
The man convicted of stabbing Renée Sweeney to death is now serving a life sentence in prison, but the high-profile Sudbury murder case might not yet be closed.
Lawyers for Steven Wright, who turns 44 today, have said they intend to file an appeal arguing he did not receive a fair trial.
Not a lot of court cases from northeastern Ontario are appealed, but the ones that are tend to take a while.
Former Sudbury track coach David Case was sentenced in 2021 to five years in prison for two different sexual assaults, while his former star sprinter, Celine Loyer, was sentenced to 16 months for one of those assaults. They both filed an appeal two years ago, but have yet to appear before a judge.
A Toronto pharmacist who appealed her 13-year sentence for trafficking fentanyl on the streets of Sudbury just recently got her decision four years later.
Eric Granger, a criminal defence lawyer who has argued many cases before the Court of Appeal, says an appeal is mostly done on paper rather in the courtroom, which means many months typing out transcripts of what happened during the trial.
"It can take a year or more just to get those transcripts and that's nothing new in terms of COVID, it's just always the way it's been," he says.
- Family and friends of Renée Sweeney tell Sudbury court to keep convicted killer in jail as long as possible
Trevor Farrow, a professor at Osgoode Hall law school at Toronto's York University, says the sophistication of our legal system and an obsession with getting the "right answer" does lead to a slower process.
"Are we letting the perfect be the enemy of the good? Are we essentially freezing out the ability for people to really have a meaningful public justice system when things take so long?" he said.
Granger, who also teaches law at the University of Ottawa, says a good lawyer will lay out the options for their newly convicted client and make it clear the court can dismiss frivolous appeals.
"'I see a potential error here was made by the judge, so this might be worth appealing versus, 'I don't agree with the decision the judge made, but I don't think the Court of Appeal is going to find a legal error there,'" he says.
Because it's a paper process, Granger says most successful appeals lead to a new trial rather than an amended verdict because "it's difficult on paper to figure out what the right result should have been."
Farrow says while Legal Aid is available, many appeals don't go ahead because the accused doesn't have the money to pay legal fees for several more years after the trial.
"You know in theory we think justice is open to all, but the old saying is, 'Justice is open to all like the Ritz Hotel.' Those who have power and those who have money, often have wider access to services in society, including justice," he says.
"We think it's a good idea for people to have the appeal route, because we ultimately want to get the right result. Whether they misuse that or not is up to them."