Wed | May 27, 2020

Jamaicans urged to support plea bargaining as solution to court backlog

Published:Sunday | November 5, 2017 | 12:00 AMJason Cross
Delroy Chuck

With rampant criminality contributing to the backlog within the court system, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck is advocating for Jamaicans to buy into plea bargains.

Chuck was addressing a recent town hall meeting organised by the Ministry of Justice at St George's College in Kingston to discuss with residents and stakeholders the pros and cons of plea bargains.

The Plea Negotiations and Agreement Act 2017 was passed recently.

"When you have more than 35,000 cases in the Parish Courts and more than 2,000 cases in the Circuit Court, there is absolutely no way we will be able to try all of them. Even if we work 24 hours a day, we couldn't finish these cases in two years. Cases keep going on and on, until 10 years and witnesses become frustrated and stop coming. They want to help the State, but the State has fallen short," Chuck said.

... No need to get others convicted under new plea-bargain law

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck is proposing that Jamaica aims to copy what the United States has been doing for decades within its justice system, where plea bargaining plays a major role in clearing up backlog by securing guilty pleas.

Plea-bargain legislation, which was introduced in 2006 and amended in 2010, according to Chuck, has been underutilised. He said a decision was made last year, when he returned as minister, to implement a new and more attractive approach.

Off the bat, the benefit to be gained by accused persons is the automatic negotiation of their possible sentence.

"In Washington, the judges said what you have now is what we had in the 1960s - cases were piling up, until they decided on the plea-bargain system," he said.

"What has happened in the United States is that 95 per cent of cases were completed by guilty pleas. Nineteen out of 20 cases got guilty pleas. The effect of it was that most of the persons who stick out and get their cases tried, are found guilty."

"The old legislation required that for you to plead guilty and benefit, you would have to assist the Crown in getting persons convicted or that they had to give information on persons so they can be charged. I said nobody is going to utilise that because they would be deemed an informer. The new act passed in June this year is now known as the Plea Negotiations and Agreement."

He continued: "The effect of it is that anyone who is charged with a crime does not have to give any assistance to the Crown, but can just come forward, plead guilty and negotiate their sentence. If we want to move forward, there has to be a culture change, meaning that prosecutors, defence counsel and the public at large must recognise that once a person is charged with a crime, we must look towards the system of pleas rather than a system of trials."