Chief Justice supports more “robust” use of plea bargains

Chief Justice supports more “robust” use of plea bargains
(FILE PHOTO)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Chief Justice Brian Moree said while the use of plea bargains in The Bahamas has picked up in recent years, he supports a more “robust approach” to these agreements in appropriate cases.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is responsible for prosecuting defendants.

“It must be an integral part of any modern criminal justice system and I would strongly encourage a more robust approach to plea bargaining by both the DPP’s Office and the private defense bar because what the empirical data shows throughout courts around the world that no court system in the United States, Australia, Britain — in the largest countries in the world – has the resources to bring to trial every criminal case that is filed.

“It simply cannot happen and it doesn’t happen anywhere in the world.

“So, plea bargaining becomes an integral part of the disposition regime for criminal cases and in The Bahamas our rate of plea bargaining was really quite low.

“Recently, and by recently I mean probably within the last three to five years, we have seen an increase in cases being plea-bargained and that is encouraging.

“But I would strongly support the judicious and careful and proper use of plea bargaining in appropriate cases in order to mitigate the backlog.

“And as I’ve said, it has to be an integral part of the system because we cannot take all criminal cases to trial. We just don’t have the resources.

“So, I’m glad the DPP seems to be focusing on that.

“I hope that the members of the private criminal bar will also focus on it and we will see an increased use of plea-bargaining as we move forward as part of our backlog reduction program.

In August, attorney Christina Galanos expressed concern about the backlog of cases in the Supreme Court, an issue exacerbated during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and suggested defendants be incentivized to take plea bargains to take matters out of the court’s calendar.

Moree was unable to provide specifics on the extent of the backlog.

He outlined numerous measures to improve the efficiency and modernization of the judiciary, including a number of administrative appointments with the courts.

The chief justice also said an “enhanced focus” will be placed on remand periods of those awaiting trial.

“We are fully engaged in trying to address the remand periods for all accused persons who are in the criminal justice system,” he said.

“I might add that that’s a problem, which faces every court system in the world.

“That does not mean of course that we don’t have to address it ourselves in a proper and fair way to all parties.

“I just want to put a little perspective into this issue.

“Periods of remand should of course be under review and so, persons who are on remand should have their cases reviewed.

“Under our system, persons on remand are required to be brought before a judicial officer, usually a officer, every seven days and that happens.”

Moree said remand hearings take place every day.

He said those hearings continued even during the height of the ongoing pandemic.