Several people believe money is the root of all evil, but in todays society, money buys everything, even freedom from prosecution. Everyone should be guaranteed the right to a fair trial, right? But if more than 90% of criminal cases never make it to court, how can a defendant get a fair trial? Defendants who cannot afford competent legal representation always end up with bad plea deals.
There was a study done by PBS that showed how pervasive plea deals are and how they are often misused. Now that Jamaica is considering implementing plea deals due to the backlog of court cases, is it possible for defendants to truly get good representation if they accept plea deals instead of going to trial in front of a judge and jury?
In December 2016, the Jamaica Gleaner reported a story about the Jamaican government being assisted by the U.S. State Department with the concept of plea bargaining to the justice system. Although, this may be a move forward in the reformation of the system, the concept has many side effects. In the U.S., critics suggest that resolving cases through plea bargains jeopardizes the constitutional rights of defendants, who may be pressured to admit guilt whether they are guilty of not.
In one case, Erma Faye Stewart was arrested along with 26 others after an informant tipped off the police about an alleged drug ring. The defendant received a court appointed lawyer who she told she was innocent, but her court-appointed lawyer adviced her to plead guilty and accept a sentence of 10 years probation, a fine of $1800 and monthly mandatory reporting to her parole officer. Unfortunately, during the trial of one of the other accused, it was discovered that the informant lied about everything and all the cases were dismissed except for Stewart and others who plead guilty, leaving them destitute. This was a result of bad advice by attorneys, and mandatory sentencing laws made the question of actual innocence or guilt almost irrelevant.
This could become an issue when implemented in Jamaica, because the Justice System is known for being corrupt. That means the accused may continue to be disenfrancised regardless of the reforms in the system. Majority of the population believe that being poor is a crime in Jamaica because the lack of money can decide whether an accuse gain their freedom.
In 2014, The Jamaica Gleaner reported on a survey that found 96% of Jamaicans believe that the poor is treated unfairly by the justice system compared to the rich. That means a majority of the population believe they do not receive equal treatment under the law because of their attire, how they speak, and their level of education. A 2007 report by the Justice Reform Task Force noted many complaints from the public regarding criminal charges laid by the police for trivial matters as a form of harrassment and the law is applied inequitably depending on the individuals social status.
Jamaica Observer (December 2016). U.S. To Assist Jamaica with Introduction of Plea Bargaining. Retrieved on September 4, 2017, from http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/US-to-assist-Jamaica-with-introduction-of-plea-bargaining
Gavett, Gretchen (October 31, 2011). The Problem With Pleas. Retrieved on September 4, 2017, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/the-problem-with-pleas/
Luton, Daraine (October 9, 2014). Rich and Poor Treated Differently By Jamaican Legal System – Poll. Retrieved on September 4, 2017, from http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/lead-stories/20141009/rich-and-poor-treated-differently-jamaicas-legal-system-poll