Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Justice Ministry targets more guilty pleas

Published:Monday | January 16, 2017 | 1:00 AMLivern Barrett

The Andrew Holness administration is looking to dangle a raft of incentives before criminal suspects to secure more guilty pleas.

The incentives are being contemplated as part of the proposed amendments to the plea-bargain legislation and other statutes.

Local criminal-defence attorneys have long argued that there are major flaws in the plea-bargain law that make it less likely that an accused person will plead guilty.

Among the shortcomings cited by some attorneys is the uncertainty as to whether judges will accept the recommended range of prison time agreed in discussions with prosecutors.

But according to the justice ministry, this shortcoming will be addressed with soon-to-be-implemented sentencing guidelines and the proposed amendment to the plea-bargain legislation now being crafted.

LENGTH OF SENTENCE

Already, Althea McBean, director of the ministry's Justice Reform Implementation Unit, says Chief Justice Zaila McCalla has issued directions that allow the attorney for an accused person to enquire of judges the range of sentence they are likely to impose should their client enters a guilty plea.

"Because that has been a major blockage to plea (deals) being issued," McBean acknowledged during a Gleaner Editors' forum at the newspaper's downtown Kingston offices last Friday.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck says depending on the gravity of the crime, prosecutors will retain the right to start plea negotiations at the highest sentence possible.

In addition, he said, in cases where prosecutors and defence attorneys cannot reach an agreement, the case can be turned over to a plea judge who will also have the authority to disregard any agreement.

Chuck said like defence attorneys, prosecutors will have the right to back out of a deal if they find it unfavourable. The case will then go through the normal channels and would be heard by a different judge.

The push to make changes to the plea-bargaining arrange-ment, according to Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, is part of the Government's plan to unclog the country's court system.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com