Review: Until Proven Innocent (2009)

Director: Peter Burger | 85 minutes | drama | Actors: Cohen Holloway, Jodie Rimmer, Peter Elliott, Tim Spite, Holly McDonald, Ngapaki Emery, John Wraight, Miranda Harcourt, Edward Campbell, Tim Gordon, Jeff Kingsford-Brown, Martyn Sanderson, Phil Peleton, Diane Spodarek, Alan Lovell

To the jury in a New Zealand sex offense it all seems plain and simple. A very young victim of sexual assault is certain that her neighbor David Dougherty is the culprit, despite the fact that she never got a good look at her rapist. David, who already has a criminal record due to some wantonness in his youth, is found guilty and disappears behind bars. If it later turns out that his DNA does not match that of the perpetrator, he assumes that he will be acquitted on appeal. There’s no arguing about DNA evidence, is it?

An expert witness shatters all hope with a remarkable argument. Although the DNA found indicates another culprit, she says vague secondary DNA traces have been found that cannot be completely ruled out as belonging to David. Conclusion: There is no conclusive evidence that David is innocent. The doubts that have arisen are sufficient reason for the judge to reject the appeal. The case only starts to move when a journalist chops up the evidence and files a new lawsuit. David is acquitted. Years later, the real culprit is arrested.

The true ‘Until Proven Innocent’ is especially interesting because of its theme, which is also topical in the Netherlands after the notorious miscarriages of justice in the Lucia de B. case, the Schiedammer park murder and the Putten murder case. If you can learn from the Dougherty case, it is that eyewitnesses can be mistaken and statements of expert witnesses should always be scrutinized. Jurisprudence requires a clear yes or no, while science often revolves around probability percentages and disputed or uncontested theories. The most important lesson, however, is that you cannot judge someone without sufficient evidence.

As a viewing experience ‘Until Proven Innocent’ does not manage to rise above the level of an average Wednesday evening film. The acting is mediocre and the screenplay initially jumps back and forth in time, making the story difficult to follow. The emotions of those involved also remain underexposed. Until Proven Innocent lists facts and events. What goes on in the head of an unjustly convicted or a traumatized victim who positively and unintentionally points out the wrong culprit, you do not learn. As a result, the film does appeal to your sense of justice, but not to your heart.

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