Chuck clears up guilty plea negotiations

Monday, November 20, 2017

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MONTEGO BAY, St James —Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has explained that a lesser sentence is not guaranteed in all circumstances for accused who appear before the court and plead guilty under the new Plea Negotiations Act.

“In exceptional cases, the judge may refuse to grant any discount or reduction, even where the person pleads guilty,” the justice minister pointed out.

“If the person has a criminal record and the case is a particularly bad one, then although there is a plea of guilty, if it would be against the public interest to grant a discount, then the court will not do so.

“In arriving at an appropriate sentence, the court will always look at mitigating and aggravating factors to determine what is appropriate.”

The justice minister, however, noted that the process of “plea negotiation and agreement is critical to the reduction of the backlog and to the criminal justice system itself”.

He alluded to the success of the plea bargaining system in the United States where over 95 per cent of cases are concluded by way of guilty pleas.

“On my visit to Washington in December 2016, we were told by judges there that if they did not have such a high disposal rate by guilty pleas; they could never try all the cases in the courts. We in Jamaica have far less resources; we need to use those resources better,” Chuck argued.

“Plea bargaining enables the court and prosecutors to focus on those matters that must be tried. It is an established principle at common law, used in many other jurisdictions that accused persons are given a discount or reduction in their sentence if they plead guilty.”

He was speaking at the Jamaican Bar Association's (JBA's) 7th annual Weekend Conference held at the Half Moon Hotel in St James, Saturday night.

The Plea Negotiations and Agreements Act, which was passed in June of this year, provides for plea negotiation and agreement.

“A plea of guilty should be treated as a mitigating factor. It not only saves the country the great expense of a lengthy trial but also saves time and the convenience of many, particularly the witnesses,” Chuck remarked.

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