KINGSTON, Jamaica, Monday September 12, 2016 – Work on proposed amendments to the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations and Agreement) Act in Jamaica should be completed by either the end of this month or early next month, to provide a bigger incentive for people accused of crime to plead guilty and provide prosecutors with information in return for a reduced sentence.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck says the Legal Reform Unit in his ministry is actively working on it and he has directed the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, which does the drafting, for it to be treated as “a matter of priority”.
The Act was introduced in 2006 and amended in 2010. The latest amendments are intended to improve its use as part of the sentencing arrangement.
The minister noted that in jurisdictions across the world where plea bargaining is in play, approximately 90 per cent of defendants enter guilty pleas in exchange for lighter sentences. But he told the Jamaica Information Service that less than one per cent of cases here are resolved by plea bargaining.
“There has to be greater incentive given to an accused for that person to want to enter into a plea bargaining arrangement,” he said.
“What I am hoping for and where I know we need to go is for proper sentencing guidelines to be a part of the equation so that recommended reduced sentences will be easier to accept.”
Chuck said that once the defence attorney and the prosecutor meet and sign off on a recommended sentence, the accused wants to be assured that the presiding judge will go along or will not deviate much from the recommendation.
“If the accused pleads guilty for a recommended sentence of five years instead of the likelihood of 10 years if he had gone to trial, then he is not expecting the judge to surprise him with a nine or ten-year sentence. If that is the case, you will find that he would rather take his chances with a trial,” he noted.
The Justice Minister said plea bargaining will also help to reduce the heavy backlog of cases in the court system.
“The system will benefit, as there will be a faster disposition of criminal matters. If you look at many of the cases that are currently in front of the courts, a lot of them could be pleaded out by way of plea bargaining, but, again, we have to be able to do this where there is a win-win for everybody,” he contended.