DPP defends reliance on plea bargain

DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, King’s Counsel has defended her office’s reliance on the Criminal Justice (Plea Negotiation and Agreement) Act to get guilty pleas from criminals.

She argued that if such negotiations can lead to the taking down of networks, the public’s best interest has been served.

The DPP, who was speaking at the recent two-day conference hosted by the National Police Academy on the New Firearms Act in Twickenham Park, St Catherine, said the Plea Negotiations legislation has become a part of her office’s toolkit, despite some amount of hesitancy from several quarters.

“As investigators, we, in a way that cannot even be appreciated by the court or defence counsel or the public, have to use strategy even in terms of emotional intelligence in addition to being astute, all of which will be underpinned by your knowledge of the legislation to be able to persuade persons to assist in investigations and prosecutions. Right now, we at the office of the DPP are using the Plea Negotiations Act quite a bit,” Llewellyn said.

The DPP said her office, in collaboration with the National Intelligence Bureau and the Criminal Investigations Branch, has used this approach with several high-profile cases including that of social media influencer Aneka “Slickianna” Townsend, popular Portland businessman Everton “Beachy Stout”, and the Clarendon-based Bloods gang.

“So many cases, we are behind the scenes, unknown to social media we have been contacting, doing the investigative process and we work together, putting our minds together, using our experience and knowledge of the law and using investigative knowledge on the ground,” the DPP said.

Noting that some members on the bench (judges) might not appreciate this approach, the DPP said, “which is why it is our role and function to decide who we are going to prosecute and what we are going to prosecute them for, because it will always be in the public good, that if perhaps you can get a man who will plead guilty perhaps to one charge and he will be able to bring down 10 others, then it is for us in the trenches on the ground to decide, in the interest of justice, what is the best way to go”.

She, however, noted that the only way the approach could be fully beneficial was if there is communication between law enforcement and prosecutors.

Referring to the new Firearms Act, which came into force November, the DPP said “it is the prosecution [which comprises law enforcement and the Crown] who will be in the trenches in implementing this legislation. It is the prosecution who must interface with charging and arresting persons, who will have to interface with witnesses and when I say witnesses what this legislation contemplates is an enhancement of the scenario where we may have even more persons who themselves are facing charges, who may plead guilty but seek to assist the prosecution … in giving evidence”.

The DPP, who is promising “robust prosecutions” under the new provision, told the police, “This is not a time when we should work in silos, this is not a time when anybody should want to show how much they can beat the chest because you are doing so well, so you’re going to leave this and not communicate to your colleagues. This is a time when it is all hand on deck and I undertake, as DPP, as usual, to give the support through my staff.

“So, there will be no excuse going forward when we see a big lapse and we say, ‘so why didn’t you contact us?’ we understand that with new legislation there has to be enhanced communication and we are going to go through this together. Most importantly, for Jamaica’s sake, look at the dividends, that’s bearing fruit,” she said.

Under the new Firearms Act, individuals implicated in gun crimes will not be allowed to enter into plea-bargain arrangements unless they fulfil certain obligations. According to the Act, those obligations “shall include the provision of information that assists the Crown in the prevention, detection or investigation of, or in proceedings relating to, the offence concerned or any other offence”.

The intention is to encourage offenders to provide critical information to support the State in tackling the proliferation of illicit firearms and other transnational organised criminal activities.

In September, Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson lauded the new legislation which, he said, means that “for those people in the illegal gun trade, whether you possess it, traffic it, transport it, bring it into the country or whatever you do with it, you will be facing sentences of 15 years and upwards”.

He added: “For us, as police officers, this will make a huge difference because the [police force] has seen these [people] like a revolving door. They’ve been in our custody, they’ve been charged for illegal guns, they paid their fine, they’ve gotten their one year and they are back out [doing] the same things that they were doing before.”

Already under the new legislation, a gun amnesty was implemented netting over 100 illegal firearms and 3,000 rounds of ammunition to the police.

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