Gov't looking at further incentives for criminals who plead guilty

Friday, July 14, 2017

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MINISTER of Justice Delroy Chuck says the Government will be looking at amending the Parole Act and the expungement law to provide further incentives for criminals who plead guilty through the plea-bargaining process.

He said the amendments will allow people who have shown remorse for crime committed to be made eligible for early parole.

“In other words, if they go into the prison and participate in the rehabilitation programmes, have good relationship with their families and (are otherwise well behaved), they should be allowed to serve a part of their sentences in the community, especially if the victims forgive them,” Chuck said.

The minister, who was speaking in an interview on the Jamaica Information Service's (JIS) Issues & Answers television programme, said he is also looking at having these people eligible to eventually have their criminal records expunged.

“So, those persons, who having pleaded guilty and maybe got an early parole, and who have demonstrated that they have put crime behind them and can show they are living fairly decent, upright lives, could eventually be eligible for expungement of their sentence,” he said.

Chuck said it is hoped that the move will result in these people being examples to their communities, as it will be incumbent on them to live a crime-free life in order to complete parole and be eligible for record expungement in 15 to 20 years.

The minister said that integrating these incentives and attractions into the plea-bargaining process is critical to achieving the target of having at least 50 per cent of accused persons submit guilty pleas, resulting in a significant reduction in the backlog of cases.

“The criminal justice system is overburdened. The backlog is such that the courts are bursting at the seams and… unless we find an alternative way to deal with the huge number of cases that get in the parish courts and into the circuit courts, we will not be able to settle these matters appropriately,” he said.

The Plea Negotiations and Agreement Act, 2017, which provides for a system of plea bargaining for people who commit crimes, was passed in the Senate on June 2. It is intended to give accused people the opportunity to offer a guilty plea in exchange for a lighter sentence.

The minister said the Act is in line with United States standards, where the practice has resulted in a rate of more than 90 per cent resolution of cases in federal and state courts.

He is urging local prosecutors and defence counsels to “buy into” the benefits of the Act and to see it as an important component of the justice system.

“The prosecution and the defence counsel and a plea judge will have to bear in mind that if you can get an accused person to plead guilty, it saves an enormous amount of time and resources, not only of the State, but the judicial time, prosecution, witnesses, defence counsel's time… What is necessary is that in all the cases, we have to at least attempt to get a settlement,” Chuck said.

The minister, in the meanwhile, noted that the views of the victims or family of victims, where available, will be taken into consideration in the plea-bargaining process.

Additionally, he said the judge accepting a guilty plea will have to take into consideration the public interest, as well as the sensitivities of the victim, the outcome of the investigation, the responses of the accused and his willingness to compensate the victim, in sentencing.

— JIS

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