Jamaica looks to plea bargaining to ease burden on criminal justice system

Jamaica looks to plea bargaining to ease burden on criminal justice system


Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck (JIS File Photo)

By Latonya Linton June 27, 2017

KINGSTON, USA — Minister of justice, Delroy Chuck, says he hopes plea bargaining will become a major component of the criminal justice system in Jamaica.

“Prosecutors must see negotiations with defence attorneys as a very important component to get rid of the vast majority of cases,” Chuck said.

“At the moment, you have case management, and in that case management, the defence counsel for the accused can look at the file and if the case is overwhelming, it is almost incumbent on the defence attorney to persuade the accused (that) it is in his or her best interest to plead guilty,” he added.

The Plea Negotiations and Agreement Act, 2017 was recently passed in the Houses of Parliament. The legislation provides for a system of plea bargaining for persons who commit crimes. It is intended to give accused persons the opportunity to offer a guilty plea in exchange for a lighter sentence.

Chuck said in the United States, 90 percent of cases are dealt with using plea bargaining, and less than ten percent of the cases go to trial. However, he noted that in Jamaica, less than ten percent of accused persons plead guilty.

“This has to change; the criminal justice system is overburdened. The backlog is such that the courts are bursting at the seams, and in many courts, every week, we can see they are at the point of collapsing,” he said.

The minister noted that unless an alternative way is found to deal with the huge number of cases in the parish courts and circuit courts, “we will never be able to resolve and really settle these matters appropriately”.

Chuck said the Plea Bargaining Bill is meant to tackle some of the cases within these courts.

“The prosecution and defence counsel and the 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 of the judges,” Chuck argued.