'A Christmas gift'

Defence attorneys welcome sentence-reduction initiative

By RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, December 18, 2017

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WHILE some Jamaicans are opposing the sentence-reduction initiative introduced by the Supreme Court as part of the Criminal Case Management Programme, defence attorneys are welcoming the initiative.

Minutes after the sentencing, Friday, of Phillip Brown, who admitted to killing his pregnant girlfriend while she slept last December at their Crystal Towers apartment in St Andrew, Brown's attorney Anthony Williams described his 15-year sentence as a “Christmas gift”, and told the Jamaica Observer that he welcomed the initiative for more reasons than one.

This, even as Jamaicans polled by the Observer last week rejected the premise that criminals who committed heinous crimes should benefit from any such programme.

“How can you benefit from something you do wrong?” argued one respondent, Omar Smith, who stated that the programme was akin to going to a store and getting a 50 per cent discount on an item.

But, explained Williams: “The main reason why the Government of Jamaica implemented the sentence-reduction day system is primarily because our prisons are overloaded, overpopulated with inmates, particularly the male population. The other reason is because the court has a high backlog of cases and the murder cases are becoming increasingly alarming.”

He said that, even if the challenges were addressed, it makes no sense for an accused person to pursue a criminal trial knowing that they have no defence.

In addition to that, Williams said the initiative encourages attorneys who are representing accused persons who have no defence or reasonable prospect of succeeding to encourage them to plead guilty and complete their cases expeditiously.

Yesterday other attorneys joined in, praising the programme which provides the platform for individuals to enter a guilty plea and benefit from a maximum 50 per cent reduction in the sentence handed down in line with provisions of the Criminal Justice (Administration) (Amendment) Act, 2015.

The sentence-reduction programme, which had its first instalment on May 22 this year, is being implemented by the Criminal Case Management Steering Committee, which has as its mandate the implementation of policies and strategies that are geared towards the administration of justice in a timely manner in all the courts.

Attorney Able-Don Foote said sentence-reduction day is a good incentive for accused persons who would not readily plead guilty.

“Once it is that they are aware that there is some great or immense benefit to get from pleading guilty, if it is that they are guilty, they will readily do so,” Foote said, also positing that the programme will combat the case backlog.

For his part, attorney Bert Samuels said he welcomed the pragmatic approach by the Ministry of Justice.

Samuels said when an accused person pleads guilty, he saves at least two weeks of trial. As a result of that, Samuels said it makes way for those who wish to contest the cases against them, resulting in them reaching trial in a timely manner.

He pointed out that it is a win-win situation and it should be encouraged.

“Once the benefits are being demonstrated, then more defendants will ask to move forward their cases,” Samuels reasoned.

“I think accompanying the sentencing reduction should be also a move on the path of the Director of Public Prosecutions to weed out those cases which are going nowhere, which will never be able to be tried for one reason or the other,” Samuels said, adding that that process could trim approximately 40 per cent of the backlog.

In October Queen's Counsel Valerie Neita-Robertson encouraged fellow attorneys to utilise the initiative, noting that the reduction of case backlog is favourable to all stakeholders in the justice sector.

“The backlog is not beneficial to any side; defence attorneys are suffering,” she told JIS.

“When you have a case dragging on for 10 years, there is no amount of money to be paid to you to account for that. So if you can get rid of it early, while doing what is in the best interest of your client, then the system, I think, will begin to work a little better,” she said.

At that time, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Andrea Martin-Swaby said that in addition to the benefit of a reduced caseload to the prosecution, victims, complainants and witnesses will also benefit from the initiative.

“Witnesses, complainants and victims benefit by not having to repeatedly relive or revisit the unpleasant circumstances of the case in a trial… and are, therefore, usually happy to not have to go through the process,” she said.

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