On June 22, 1633 Galileo offered his now infamous recantation declaring that he would there forward "abandon the false opinion that the sun is the centre of the world and immovable, and that the earth is not the centre of the work, and moves...". He did so, as noted in his abjuration, as the Holy Office had pronounced him "vehemently to be suspected of heresy". One might infer from the circumstances that he did so for other reasons; perhaps to avoid a sentence worse than the prison sentence he did receive.
In the recent case of R v Snyder, 2011 ONCA 445, Doherty JA reflected upon pressure that might have been placed on a suspected recanting witness, Stuart Burgess; admittedly, Kyle Snyder probably had less sophisticated ways of encouraging Burgess to recant but apparently no less effective.
Burgess and another fella, Kevin Doucette had broken into a residence intent on robbing a drug dealer. Unfortunately for them, the drug dealer had moved out about a month earlier; more misfortune befell the two when the drug dealer's brother turned out to be living there and a fight ensued. Burgess was slashed across the face and Doucette was stabbed.
Doucette and Burgess were both arrested charged and ultimately pleaded guilty to robbery. Burgess and Doucette both gave statements to the police that indicated that Snyder had asked them to commit the robbery [para 9]. At trial Burgess testified against Snyder indicating that Snyder promised to clear up a $600 drug debt if Burgess would do the robbery for him. Burgess gave further details about the plan and the incident. Snyder was convicted and appealed.
One of the grounds on appeal was based on fresh evidence in the form of a sworn affidavit from Burgess, some two years after the fact, in which Burgess stated that he falsely implicated Snyder and that Snyder in fact had nothing to do with the robbery.
In considering the admissibility of the fresh evidence Doherty JA looked at whether it could have affected the verdict; in doing so, he noted that it called for "strict scrutiny" [para 63]. When applying that level of scrutiny, Doherty JA offered the following quotable quote in the context of what explanations may exist for the recantation thus demonstrating its lack of value as fresh evidence:
Absent any evidence explaining the origins of the recantation, there are at least two explanations that flow from the circumstances. Either the witness, who was in custody and is clearly part of the criminal subculture, and who no longer had any reason to cooperate with the Crown, saw the opportunity to help out the appellant, another member of the criminal subculture, or the witness was under physical compulsion to recant his trial testimony. According to the submissions made by Burgess's lawyer at the time of Burgess's sentencing, Burgess had been assaulted while in jail because of his cooperation with the Crown in this case. Burgess also acknowledged in cross-examination that he had concerns about his safety in jail if he implicated others in criminal activity. He related that concern to his refusal to identify the person whom he now claimed had actually asked him to perform the robbery [para 66] [emphasis added].