Think again, Min­is­ter Chuck

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION&COMMENTARY - Nor­man Lee Guest Colum­nist Email feed­back to columns@glean­ and nam­ron­

JUS­TICE MIN­IS­TER Del­roy Chuck is meet­ing ob­jec­tions to this new ap­proach of plea bar­gains (‘Chuck de­fends plea-bar­gain sys­tem’, Oc­to­ber 27, 2017) be­cause it is pro­moted and per­ceived as get­ting rid of the Gov­ern­ment’s prob­lems sur­round­ing the woe­ful and in­ad­e­quate re­sources and in­fra­struc­ture of the jus­tice sys­tem. Ac­cused per­sons are not in­ter­ested in help­ing the Gov­ern­ment with this prob­lem.

Plea bar­gain has its use and works in other ju­ris­dic­tions. It ap­pears to be the so­lu­tion to the huge back­log gen­er­ated over decades. We all know that the cases re­sult from ex­po­nen­tial in­crease in crime – be­yond the ca­pac­ity of the jus­tice sys­tem to dis­pose of cases without in­fring­ing the con­sti­tu­tional rights of ac­cused, a right to trial in a rea­son­able time, and I will dare to say the ac­tions/tac­tics of the de­fence lawyers.

On one hand, the ac­cused, who is in­no­cent and in so far as his lawyer has as­sured him based on the ev­i­dence dis­closed by the pros­e­cu­tor, will re­ject any plea ar­range­ment that will send him to prison or ob­tain a crim­i­nal record, by his own act, just to help the Gov­ern­ment out of its prob­lem. Many will feel se­vere pres­sure to plead guilty be­cause of the sword of Damo­cles hang­ing over their heads for years and hav­ing to find money to keep pay­ing for their lawyers’ ser­vice. The likely re­sult is that some will bite the bul­let and plead guilty, but not in the quan­ti­ties that Min­is­ter Chuck de­sires.


On the other hand, those ac­cused who know that they are guilty seem to pre­fer to take the risk – let the pros­e­cu­tion prove me guilty if, af­ter such long time, they can find wit­nesses. Such per­sons don’t care about the size of the back­log and they be­lieve that the se­ries of de­lays is favourable to them beat­ing the sys­tem. Fur­ther­more, a jury of his peers gives them, they feel, a favourable chance of ac­quit­tal.

De­fence lawyers’ caseload, whether aris­ing from greed or rep­u­ta­tion, and judges’ ac­com­mo­dat­ing ap­proach, re­sult in the un­de­sir­able sit­u­a­tion that cases are sched­uled to fit the lawyers’ timetable. It does not re­quire a ge­nius to de­duce that the un­der-re­sourced jus­tice sys­tem is eas­ily ma­nip­u­lated, with the prospect of in­creased earn­ings for de­fence lawyers.

This is so be­cause in-between hear­ings and tri­als, far apart, more cases arise be­cause of the tsunami of crime, and sched­ul­ing is now way into the fu­ture. I doubt that there are droves of lawyers re­ject­ing cases from ac­cused be­cause their timeta­bles are ex­ten­sively booked! Any first-for­mer can de­duce that lawyers have no in­ter­est to help the Gov­ern­ment re­duce the back­log! Sad, but true, high crime guar­an­tees food for lawyers; plea bar­gains do not!

Min­is­ter Chuck has to find a more palat­able pitch for his plea-bar­gain sys­tem.

An av­enue that may be worth the ef­fort to as­sault the back­log is the ac­cused fil­ing con­sti­tu­tional mo­tions re­gard­ing their right to a trial within a rea­son­able time. A judg­ment on that is­sue would, like Pratt & Mor­gan, set a max­i­mum time to have a case dis­posed. Con­sti­tu­tional cases are usu­ally ex­pe­di­tiously sched­uled and dis­posed. This would al­low hu­man-rights lawyers to demon­strate their sin­cer­ity by act­ing for ac­cused be­fore the court.

Un­for­tu­nately, Min­is­ter Chuck can’t im­ple­ment this him­self.

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