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November 14, 2012
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Plea-bargaining in Jamaica

A plea bargain is an arrangement between an accused person and a prosecutor whereby the accused man pleads guilty to a lesser charge in the hopes of leniency.

The plea-bargaining law, which is intended to allow certain offenders to provide information on masterminds in exchange for reduced sentences, has been criticised for not working.

The intention of the law, how-ever, is to offer a reduced sentence or a dismissal of some of the charges in exchange for information. There are advantages to plea-bargaining as it can serve to conclude a criminal case without a trial. When it is successful, an accused man can agree to plea guilty in return for a dismissal of certain charges, a favourable sentence or in some instances no prison time at all.

In the United States, the prosecutor can recommend a particular sentence to a judge, or offer some other benefit to the defendant. In Jamaica, however, the prosecutor has no part to play in the sentencing of a person, and so with the uncertainty of sentencing, this has made plea-bargaining difficult.

There are those who believe that plea-bargaining could be useful in fighting crime in Jamaica. They advocate that plea-bargaining is critical in this respect as it allows for offenders in a gang the opportunity to reduce their sentence in exchange for giving up vital information on the operation of that gang, which would allow for the dismantling of that criminal enterprise.

However, in Jamaica where we have a culture of silence and popular quotes such as "informa fi dead" which are often translated into reality, it deters accused men from giving information on their criminal counterparts and, by extension, makes the use of plea-bargaining almost non-existent.

Statistics show that only in a handful of cases since 2005 when The Criminal Justice (Plea Negoti-ations and Agreements) Act was enacted, has the plea-bargaining legislation been used. It has been criticised for not working.

Some defence attorneys argue that plea-bargains are hampered by the prosecution themselves as they are oftentimes unwilling to 'bargain', whereas prosecutors argue that even when plea-bargaining is suggested it is not entertained by defence counsel.

However, despite the many challenges being faced by plea- bargaining, it should not be written off as useless. It can be effective in curbing crime and can help in making for more speedy trials, thereby helping to cut the backlog of cases which our courts face. Some have argued that for this legislation to work, how-ever, there need to be the following changes:

the prosecution must be given power to influence sentencing

setting sentencing guidelines and giving a minimum and maximum range for certain offences.

Matters of Justice, where justice matters.

For feedback send to:

nmanley@gmail.com

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