Letters to the Editor

Sentence reduction days make judges 'one-handed'

Monday, April 16, 2018

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Dear Editor,

I wish to return to the issue of sentence reduction days (discount days, in my language) and to maintain that such a concept was ill-conceived and should be discontinued in its present form.

My reason for taking this stance is a simple one. Quite easily one can imagine a case in which the attendant circumstances (eg, extreme savagery) do not merit a discounted sentence, even in the face of a guilty plea.

From time immemorial, a judge has had the discretion whether to discount a sentence, following upon a guilty plea being entered by a defendant charged with a crime. This discretion has now been substantially abridged by recent legislation in Jamaica.

Under the law as it stands at present, once such a guilty plea is entered on a particular day — designated as a sentence reduction day — the sitting judge, in imposing sentence thereafter, is legally obliged to discount such a sentence by 15 per cent at the lower level and 50 per cent at the higher level. In these circumstances, the judge's hands are effectively tied behind his or her back.

Thankfully, it is still the law that a judge is not bound to accept a guilty plea, and may decline to do so where, in the judge's opinion, the circumstances of a particular case do not justify the court's acceptance of such a plea.

Herein may lie our limited salvation even now.

Clarence W Walker

Judge of the Court of Appeal (Retired)

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