WASHINGTON DC — The US State Department has agreed to assist the Jamaica Government in introducing the concept of plea bargaining to the island’s justice system with a view to reducing the backlog within the nation’s courts.
Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck said that the State Department has agreed to make available a number of high-level prosecutors and judges who will hold seminars with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) as well as the island’s judges on how plea bargaining can be an effective tool in making the courts more efficient.
Minister Chuck explained that the principle of plea bargaining was a time-honoured common law tradition and has been utilised in many jurisdictions to reduce the caseload of the courts.
He said that the principle aims to have offenders take responsibility for their actions, which is an important prerequisite for rehabilitation; save the complainant the trauma of reliving the traumatic experience in a pressurised setting; and to save the time and resources of the State by avoiding lengthy trials.
Minister Chuck made his comments as he updated Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States Audrey Marks at the Embassy of Jamaica, following a three-day study tour of the justice systems in Maryland, Washington DC and northern Virginia.
The justice minister said that changes are to be made to the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations and Agreement) Act in order to make the legislation more effective and to speed up the pace at which justice is delivered to Jamaicans.
The Act, which was introduced in 2006 and amended in 2010, allows individuals accused of crimes to plead guilty and give testimony or information in return for a reduced penalty.
Minister Chuck explained that the amendments will, among other things, allow for the defence counsel to be a part of the plea bargaining process and to negotiate with the prosecutor and judge regarding the sentence to be imposed.
“If the accused knows that following a trial he can receive a sentence of 10 or 15 years, and he also knows that his defence counsel can bargain with the judge and get five years instead of 10 years, there is a real likelihood that he may accept the plea,” Minister Chuck explained.
“If there is an agreement, the matter can be dealt with right away. Always in this plea bargaining process, it will be under the jurisdiction of the judge, who must have the final say,” he noted further.
Minister Chuck said that plea bargaining is not intended to “soften” the justice system, noting that sentencing guidelines will be in place to ensure that justice is served.
The justice minister told Ambassador Marks that there is will be a total overhaul of all the courts in Jamaica to bring them up to First World standard, and to ensure that justice is delivered in a timely manner.
Ambassador Marks gave the minister her assurance that she will be engaging Jamaican attorneys in the United States with a view to having them work alongside the justice ministry in helping to familiarise members of the Jamaican court system with the concept of plea bargaining.