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October 9, 2023

Government announces legal reforms to plea agreements, alternative sentencing, and keeping of criminal records

Posted: Monday, October 9, 2023. 2:44 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Cabinet announced last week it had plans for further reform of the legal system in three critical areas: plea agreements, alternative sentencing, and keeping of criminal records.

New legislation titled the Criminal Procedure (Plea Discussion and Plea Agreement) Act would establish a system of plea discussion and plea agreements in criminal procedure to address the backlog of criminal cases. Typically, to take advantage of a potentially lighter sentence, the accused would have to plead guilty right away or change his plea at any time before sentencing. More recently, some judges in the High Court have taken to using sentencing indication guidelines where the accused is told what his punishment would be if he pleads guilty, and is given the chance to take it or go to trial.

The current Penal System Reform Act would be repealed, the Executive says, to make new and expansive provisions relating to alternative sentencing to expand the options of available alternative sentences that can be passed on convicted persons. Other than a custodial sentence (imprisonment), fines are the primary alternative method of sentencing, with limited provision for community service and compensation, mainly for accidental incidents such as traffic fatalities, although the latter may still be subject to litigation.

Finally, the introduction of the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act would establish a system for the expungement of criminal records where a conviction is removed from one’s criminal record after a specific period of time and after certain rehabilitation requirements have been met. It would have been a feature of the effort to decriminalize marijuana dating back to 2016 but had not been implemented by the previous administration, which instead left the responsibility to the offender to contact the Police.

 

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