US to assist Jamaica with introduction of plea bargaining

US to assist Jamaica with introduction of plea bargaining

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Jamaica’s Ambassador to the United States Audrey Marks greets Justice Minister Delroy Chuck as he arrives at the Embassy of Jamaica in Washington DC. Looking on from left to right are Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice Carol Palme and Jamaica’s Representative to the Inter American Development Bank (IDB). Minister Chuck was on a three day study tour of the justice systems in Maryland, Washington DC and Northern Virginia. Photo: Derrick Scott

By Derrick Scott

WASHINGTON, USA — The US State Department has agreed to assist the Jamaican government in introducing the concept of plea bargaining to the island’s justice system with a view to reducing the backlog within the nation’s courts.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck said the State Department has agreed to make available a number of high level prosecutors and judges who will hold seminars with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) as well as the island’s judges on how plea bargaining can be an effective tool in making the courts more efficient..

Chuck explained that the principle of plea bargaining was a time honoured common law tradition and has been utilized in many jurisdictions to reduce the caseload of the courts.

He said the principle have offenders take responsibility for their actions, which is an important pre-requisite for rehabilitation; save the complainant the trauma of re-living the traumatic experience in a pressurized setting; and to save the time and resources of the state by avoiding lengthy trials.

Chuck made his comments as he updated Jamaica’s ambassador to the United States Audrey Marks at the embassy of Jamaica, following a three day study tour of the justice systems in Maryland, Washington DC and Northern Virginia.

The justice minister said changes are to be made to the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiations and Agreement) Act in order to make the legislation more effective and to speed up the pace at which justice is delivered to Jamaicans.

The Act, which was introduced in 2006, and amended in 2010, allows persons accused of crimes to plead guilty and give testimony or information in return for a reduced penalty.

Chuck explained that the amendments, will, among other things, allow for the defence counsel to be a part of the plea bargaining process and to negotiate with the prosecutor and judge regarding the sentence to be imposed.

“If the accused knows that following a trial he can receive a sentence of 10 or 15 years and he also knows that his defence counsel can bargain with the judge and get five years instead of ten years, there is a real likelihood that he may accept the plea,” Chuck explained.

“If there is an agreement, the matter can be dealt with right away. Always in this plea bargaining process it will be under the jurisdiction of the judge, who must have the final say,” he noted further.

Chuck said that plea bargaining is not intended to “soften” the justice system, noting that sentencing guidelines will be in place to ensure that justice is served.

The justice minister told Marks that there is will be a total overhaul of all the courts in Jamaica to bring them up to first world standard, and to ensure that justice in delivered in a timely manner.

Marks gave the minister her assurance that she will be engaging Jamaican attorneys in the United States with a view to having them work alongside the justice ministry in helping to familiarize members of the Jamaican court system with the concept of plea bargaining.

The purpose of the study visit was look at how courts improve efficiency by streamlining court processes and procedures to help decongest dockets, reduce trial delays, and improve management, along with examining court architecture.

The team met with various practitioners in and around Washington, DC who work on issues such as case management systems, court administration, facility management, and video link technology.

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