Plea deal laws to be refined
With only 10 plea deals struck under the Plea Bargaining Act, a move is now afoot to remove some of the barriers which have made the law unattractive for criminals to give information on other persons in exchange for lighter sentences.
Plea judges are to become a feature of the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations And Agree-ment) Act, 2005 when modified.
Cabinet on Monday approved a submission for changes to the law, and has issued drafting instructions to the chief parliamentary counsel.
The Cabinet submission has been guided by the work of a committee chaired by Justice Karl Harrison, which was set up to review the law.
"They felt that having a designated judge dealing with plea bargaining would help to streamline plea bargaining and speed up the process. That will have to be an administrative process. Probably the chief justice will have to now give directions as to who will be the designated plea judge for the Supreme Court and who will be the designated plea judge for the Resident Magistrate's Court," said Juciana Jackson, senior assistant director in the legal reform department at the Ministry of Justice.
Sandrea Falconer, minister with responsibility for information, said that although promulgated in 2005, plea negotiations have hardly been used.
"Only 10 agreements have gone before the court since the amendment to the act in 2010," Falconer said.
"The plea-bargaining system has proved to be an effective mechanism for securing con-victions in other jurisdictions, and could prove an important law-enforcement tool in Jamaica," she said.
Unlike under the current system where the director of public prosecutions (DPP) has to provide written authorisation to commence and to conclude a plea deal, the drafting instructions given by Cabinet involves eliminating the requirement
for written authorisation to commence negotiations.
"You can have a plea bargaining for any offence. Remember, though, that plea bargaining is a process which involves giving something to the prosecutor in exchange for something," she said.
The reformed plea laws will also include the possibility for post-sentence negotiations, where a prisoner who is serving a term wishes to assist the prosecution, and in so doing, may have his sentence reduced.
"If you are serving a sentence and you have something to offer the police or the DPP with respect to any other crime, you can get that sentence reduced, but there will have to be an application from the prosecutor to revisit the matter. Plea bargaining now contemplates pre-sentence negotiations," Jackson said.