No thank you! -- accused persons ignore sentence-reduction initiative
Accused persons in the nearly 700 criminal cases that are before the Home Circuit Court yesterday turned their backs on an initiative implemented by court administrators that guaranteed significantly discounted sentences in exchange for pleading guilty.
But for Paula Llewellyn, the country's top prosecutor, it came as no surprise that only 12 persons with cases before the Home Circuit and Gun courts took advantage of the first 'Sentence Reduction Day'.
The initiative was implemented by the Court Management Services as part of the efforts to ease the judicial backlog.
"It's unfortunate, but it was not unexpected," said Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions.
Llewellyn declined to elaborate on her response and directed queries about the low take-up to the Jamaican Bar Association.
However, veteran attorney Linton Gordon cautioned against a rush to form any conclusions based on the numbers about the first Sentence Reduction Day. "The whole practice of giving special attention to sentencing on a particular day, nobody should be surprised that the acceptance is at a low level at this stage," he told The Gleaner.
Gordon said he was confident that there will be wide acceptance of the initiative and dismissed suggestions that it has not been embraced by his colleagues.
"There is a need for litigants in the criminal department to see the benefits and to recognise that it is something that can be used for their benefit. It's early days yet, and I don't think that anyone should rush to any premature conclusion that it hasn't worked," he said.
Llewellyn, too, acknowledged that it is a new system. "With any new system, it will take some doing," she said, noting that her office has given full support to the initiative.
11 plead guilty in Gun Court
Nesseine Mardner, the sole person to take advantage of the initiative in the Home Circuit Court, entered a plea of not guilty to murder, but guilty of manslaughter in the November 2011 killing of a St Andrew woman, Kemesha Matthews.
The Court Management Services (CMS) confirmed, late yesterday, that 11 persons pleaded guilty in the Gun Court and will be sentenced in June and July.
The sentence-reduction initiative was extended to persons with new and old cases. The CMS, in a statement earlier this month, said that all accused persons who enter a guilty plea on sentence reduction day would be treated as if it was done on the first day they were placed before the courts.