Heavy court back­log to get ad­di­tional re­lief

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Bar­bara Gayle Jus­tice Co­or­di­na­tor bar­bara.gayle@glean­erjm.com

Sen­tenc­ing guide­lines com­ing for those who do not waste the court’s time

THE DIS­PAR­ITY in sen­tences handed out to per­sons who plead guilty in crim­i­nal cases could soon be a thing of the past.

Sen­tenc­ing guide­lines for judges have been drafted, and once ap­proved, per­sons who en­ter guilty pleas will have some cer­tainty about the sen­tences likely to be im­posed.

The guide­lines, which could be made pub­lic as early as next week, are geared to­wards get­ting more per­sons to plead guilty and re­duce the back­log of cases be­fore the courts.

Min­is­ter of Jus­tice Del­roy Chuck, who is anx­ious to re­duce the huge back­log of cases plagu­ing the jus­tice sys­tem, says the new sen­tenc­ing guide­lines will be a ma­jor fea­ture in achiev­ing this goal.

ACT TO BE AMMENDED

Ac­cord­ing to Chuck, the guide­lines will be for all the courts and the Crim­i­nal Jus­tice (Plea Ne­go­ti­a­tion Agree­ment) Act will be amended to en­sure the process runs smoothly.

Chuck told The Sun­day Gleaner that the sen­tenc­ing guide­lines had been cir­cu­lated among the judges, and af­ter they were agreed on, the pub­lic will be in­formed.

“I am very keen to amend and up­grade the act to en­cour­age per­sons to plead guilty,” said Chuck.

“My aim is to make it at­trac­tive for peo­ple to plead guilty. When the act is amended and comes into ef­fect, I am hop­ing that at least 50 per cent of the cases will be dis­posed of by guilty pleas,” added Chuck.

The jus­tice min­is­ter told our news team that he is hop­ing that when cases come be­fore the courts, ei­ther the pros­e­cu­tor or the de­fence will ini­ti­ate the mea­sures which will be best to dis­pose of them.

The bill to amend the act should be ready within the next few weeks. Chuck said his ini­tia­tive is to amend the law so that the ac­cused and their lawyer can ne­go­ti­ate with the pros­e­cu­tor and the judge the sen­tence to be im­posed.

“If cases are weak, the pros­e­cu­tion should of­fer no ev­i­dence, and if the cases are strong, then it is in the in­ter­est of ac­cused per­sons to plead guilty,” stressed Chuck.

Last week, The Sun­day Gleaner re­ported claims by at­tor­ney-at-law Lloyd McFarlane that some ac­cused per­sons are not plead­ing guilty be­cause they did not know the likely sen­tences.

But Chuck said that was not new to him as he is well aware that some per­sons are not plead­ing guilty be­cause they do not know the likely sen­tence.

AP­PRO­PRI­ATE SEN­TENCE

Ac­cord­ing to Chuck, once the sen­tenc­ing guide­lines are in ef­fect and some­one wants to plead guilty, the pros­e­cu­tor and the de­fence can dis­cuss the ap­pro­pri­ate sen­tence within the guide­lines.

He said there is go­ing to be start­ing points in sen­tenc­ing for guilty pleas, and mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors will be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion.

Chuck noted that a judge could ac­cept or re­ject the sen­tence sug­gested be­cause sen­tenc­ing will al­ways re­main a ju­di­cial func­tion.

He said in cases where the judge felt the sen­tence should be more than what was be­ing ne­go­ti­ated, then the ac­cused has the op­tion to with­draw the guilty plea and pro­ceed to trial.

Judges can also im­pose a lesser sen­tence than the one ne­go­ti­ated but they will be tasked to take into ac­count the pub­lic in­ter­est.

The pros­e­cu­tion is also be­ing en­cour­aged to meet with the po­lice and the vic­tim so that the con­cerns of vic­tims will be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion in im­pos­ing sen­tence.

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