KINGSTON, Jamaica, Tuesday January 28, 2020 – The Justice Ministry is encouraging accused or imprisoned co-conspirators, such as gang members, to consider plea agreements in order to expedite cases through the courts and reduce backlog.
The call has come from Minister Delroy Chuck, who says plea bargaining has proven to help resolve cases.
“The convicted persons, especially those who have been sentenced in the correctional institutions, have a great deal of knowledge about where criminal material can be discovered and also who have committed crimes in their communities. If they have the gumption or the courage to really assist the society in ridding it of guns and criminals, then they should approach the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP),” he said.
Plea bargaining involves negotiations, often between the attorney for the accused and the prosecutor, where the defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for an agreement by the prosecutor to vary the charges or sentence.
Section 20 of the Plea Negotiations and Agreement Act (2017) states that individuals who have been charged or convicted can approach the prosecution to offer assistance on a case, in exchange for a reduction in their sentence or a less severe charge. Charged persons can negotiate lighter charges, while convicts can have their sentences reduced.
Minister Chuck said the Government will be working to increase awareness about the benefits of plea bargaining by targeting charged and convicted persons.
“We intend to do some flyers and put them in the courthouses for persons who are charged with crimes and also circulate flyers in the prisons, inviting convicted persons and emphasising that we are only interested in truth and in reliable material,” he said.
But Chuck cautioned that if people come forward with misleading information in an attempt to save themselves, the DPP can ask for an increase in their sentence.
Meanwhile, Director of Legal Services in the Ministry, Karen Wilson, says there are other advantages to plea bargaining in addition to the speedy disposal of cases.
“When somebody pleads guilty, that can be seen as the first step towards rehabilitation. Pleading guilty, if it is done for all the right reasons, can show that the person is really remorseful. You can correct a man when he shows remorse and so his rehabilitation will be more successful and his reintegration into society will almost be guaranteed,” she noted.
But Wilson pointed out that Section 11 of the Act outlines that judges have the power to refuse a plea agreement.
“Before accepting the agreement, the judge must be satisfied that the plea is voluntary and did not result from force or any promises outside of the promises made in the agreement. The accused must understand the nature, substance and the consequence of entering into the agreement, and there must be a factual basis upon which the agreement was made. The acceptance of the agreement must not be contrary to the interest of justice,” she explained.
If the judge does not accept a Plea Agreement and the case goes to trial, a different judge will try the case.