Criminals could get away with serious offences in new rules

Plea bargaining will only be allowed after accused person has been charged in court. [Courtesy]
Those who have committed serious crimes could soon get away with their misdeeds by pleading to lesser charges thanks to new rules.

The rules, gazetted by the Attorney General’s office, will guide plea bargain procedures between the prosecutor and the accused person.

Plea Bargaining Rules 2018, under Criminal Procedure Code, gives the process for entering the agreement.

The rules were gazetted in a special issue on February 19.

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A murderer can now negotiate to have his or her charges reduced to manslaughter depending on the knowledge of their rights, voluntary waiver and a factual basis to support the charges to which an accused is pleading guilty to.

The information obtained from an accused person in the course of plea negotiation will not be used against him or her during trial, in the event the negotiations are unsuccessful.

The rules say a private prosecutor will notify the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in writing within 14 days to the start of his or her intention to enter into plea negotiation with an accused person.

Before a plea agreement with an accused person, the prosecutor will consult with the investigating officer with regard to the nature of the case. He will also consider the community’s interests.

Plea agreement

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“A plea agreement may include a clause for the payment of compensation to a victim by an accused person…. Value or form of compensation shall be as agreed to after negotiations between the victim and accused person and endorsed by the prosecutor if in his or her opinion the compensation serves the ends of justice,” says the rule.

An agreement can only be entered into after an accused person has been charged in court. There are elaborate preconditions, which must be fulfilled, before a written agreement is arrived at.

The court has no role in plea negotiations and plea agreement, which are the exclusive prerogatives of the accused person and prosecutors.

Before a court can accept the plea deal, an accused person must be placed on oath. The judge or magistrate must explain about 15 rights the accused is entitled to.

A court has the right to reject a plea agreement after giving reasons.

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Plea bargaining is an arrangement between prosecutor and the defendant, where the latter pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence. The charges may also be dropped altogether.

The idea is to save the time used to prosecute a case.

The Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Act 2008, has legalised the concept.

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