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As the government intensifies efforts to stamp out crime, regulations governing plea bargaining were approved by the House of Representatives yesterday (June 8).
The passage of the regulations, as well as amendments to the legal aid regulations, will give teeth to the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations and Agreements) Act, which was passed in November 2005, and provide a clear and uniformed structure for the conduct of plea deals.
Prime Minister, the Hon. Bruce Golding, stated that plea bargaining represents an important component in the multi-prong approach that must be taken to address the problem of crime in Jamaica.
He explained that “to the extent that it facilitates a negotiated plea, which can be presented to the court and perhaps accepted by the court, it will circumvent the lengthy delays and the many hours of court time in arriving at an ultimate verdict and more importantly, it provides a facility whereby a negotiated plea may assist in securing evidence that would facilitate the prosecution of perhaps greater offences involving greater offenders.”
He noted that the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) will be a central actor in the process “because the decision to enter into plea negotiations is the DPP’s. No plea negotiations can be imposed on the DPP; the DPP has to be satisfied that it is in order and it is advisable to do so.”
Plea bargaining provides for accused persons to plead guilty to lesser offences, or to only one or some of the offences on a multi-count indictment, in return for a lesser sentence than would be expected under the graver charges.
Under the parent Act, if a plea bargain is accepted by the court, the maximum penalty is reduced by a third and if the maximum penalty is life imprisonment, then the applicable maximum penalty is 15 years.
The Legal Aid (Excepted Offences) (Amendments) Regulations will support the initiative as it allows for persons, previously exempt, to access legal aid.
Under the existing law, persons, who have been charged with offences including the manufacture, import, export, and taking steps preparatory to export, sell or otherwise deal in dangerous drugs, cannot access legal aid.
The regulations provide that such persons, who wish to enter into plea bargaining, can access legal aid and will have the benefit of an attorney.
The Prime Minister stated that plea bargaining has worked in many jurisdictions and through negotiations, the prosecution is able to secure evidence that enables even greater offences to be successfully prosecuted.
Opposition Spokesperson on National Security, Peter Bunting, agreed that plea bargaining is a very “powerful tool against organised crime and criminal gangs.”