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Man talked into murder Application to ECtHR involving person with intellectual disability

The HFHR has filed with the European Court of Human Rights an application regarding a case of P.M., a man with an intellectual disability sentenced to 25 years in prison for a double murder. The case may be a landmark decision because it sheds some light on the problem of adopting a criminal procedure to the needs of persons with intellectual disabilities.

Accidental perpetrator

P.M. became of interest to law enforcement bodies by accident. He confessed to having committed a murder in an informal conversation with police officers. Despite this, he was subsequently heard as a witness, and only later as a suspect. It was only at this stage that he was instructed about his rights, including the right to refuse to provide explanations. Although a defence lawyer was appointed relatively quickly (after 5 days), his first conversation with the detained took place 3 months after P.M.’s arrest. “This poses a serious question about the system of free legal aid”, explains Marcin Wolny, an HFHR lawyer.

However, most controversies in this case concern the question whether court records are a true record of P.M. hearings. They are full of compound sentences, sophisticated vocabulary and metaphors, that is expressions that the man does not use in everyday speech, as he has an intellectual disability. Also, documents make no distinctions between questions asked by police officers and answers of the suspect.

What is more, no information indicated solely by the perpetrator has been corroborated by the collected evidentiary material. According to court experts, Traces secured at the site (including a bloody fingerprint) did not belong to P.M. Testimonies of the police officers suggest they persuaded P.M. that they had a lot of evidence against him. They also indicated that the man “after a probable sequence of events presented to him, confirmed his involvement”.

Rights of person with intellectual disability in proceedings

“This case should bring about questions about the thoroughness of justice bodies in hearing persons with intellectual disabilities”, Mr Wolny says. “We think that the investigating bodies should have provided the suspect with access to a defence lawyer and ensured the recording of procedures he participated in because the law enforcement knew he might have been a person with a disability”, the lawyer explains. “Since they have not done so, a question arises about the fairness of the proceedings in P.M.’s case.

Application to ECtHR

The above facts persuaded the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights do submit, on P.M.’s behalf, an individual application to the European Court of Human Rights. The application alleges that Poland violated Article 6 (2) and Article 6 (3)(c) of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states the prohibition of self-incrimination and the right to access to legal aid. These shortcomings have resulted in unfair proceedings.

The domestic leg of the proceedings was monitored by the HFHR’s “Innocence” Law Clinic.

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