Do Members of the Public Have a ‘Right to Know’ about Similar Fact Evidence? The Emily Perry Story and the ‘Right to Know’ in the Context of a Fair Re-Trial

21 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2014 Last revised: 17 Oct 2016

Date Written: October 8, 2014

Abstract

English Abstract: In South Australia in 1981, an intriguing criminal trial took shape around Emily Perry who was charged with two counts of attempting to murder her husband with arsenic. Similar fact evidence about the deaths of a former husband, a de facto partner and a brother led to a jury finding her guilty of the attempted murder of her husband who denied any claim that she had tried to harm him. An appeal to the South Australian Court of Criminal Appeal on the basis that the previous deaths should not have been brought to the attention of the jury was unsuccessful but Emily Perry’s case went all the way to the High Court of Australia. Her conviction was quashed and she was never re-tried.

This article examines the dichotomy of an accused’s right to a fair trial (and the rules of evidence that flow from that right) and the public’s so-called ‘right to know’ about a person charged with a serious offence. It posits the Perry case as an example of the opposing perspectives of lawyers and journalists, and explores the different narratives to which the case gave rise. The paper questions whether a fair re-trial for Emily Perry would ever have been possible after the vast media attention that it received.

Spanish Abstract: En 1981 en Australia Meridional se desarrolló un fascinante juicio criminal alrededor de Emily Perry, a quien se acusó de dos intentos de asesinar a su marido con arsénico. Pruebas similares sobre las muertes de un esposo anterior, su pareja de hecho y su hermano llevaron al jurado a declararla culpable de intento de asesinato de su marido, quien rechazó en sus declaraciones que ella hubiera tratado de hacerle daño. No prosperó una apelación a la Corte de Apelación Penal de Australia Meridional alegando que las muertes previas no deberían haberse mencionado al jurado, pero el caso de Emily Perry siguió su curso hasta el Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Australia. Se anuló su condena y nunca se le volvió a juzgar.

Este artículo analiza la dicotomía entre el derecho del acusado a un juicio justo (y las reglas de evidencia que surgen de ese derecho) y el denominado “derecho a la información” del público sobre una persona acusada de un delito serio. Plantea el caso Perry como un ejemplo de los intereses opuestos entre abogados y periodistas, y analiza las diferentes narrativas a que dio lugar el caso. El artículo cuestiona si hubiera sido posible realizar un nuevo juicio justo después de la amplia atención mediática que recibió.

Keywords: Similar fact evidence, right to a fair trial, open justice, Emily Perry case, narrative, media, Hechos probados similares, derecho a un juicio justo, justicia abierta, caso Emily Perry, narrative, medios de comunicación

Suggested Citation

Spencer, Rachel M. A., Do Members of the Public Have a ‘Right to Know’ about Similar Fact Evidence? The Emily Perry Story and the ‘Right to Know’ in the Context of a Fair Re-Trial (October 8, 2014). Oñati Socio-Legal Series, Vol. 4, No. 4, 2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2507139

Rachel M. A. Spencer (Contact Author)

Monash University ( email )

60 Beddoe Avenue
Clayton, Victoria 3168
Australia
+61 3 9905 4334 (Phone)

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