Plea deal law proposed for crime witnesses

| 04/10/2017 | 7 Comments

(CNS): Legal authorities in the Cayman Islands are contemplating a new piece of legislation to allow prosecutors to cut a deal with criminal witnesses to reduce their sentences for related convictions or to help a witness evade prosecution. Cayman currently has no formal plea deal system and when witnesses involved in crime themselves give evidence against others for more serious offences, there are no guarantees that their help will be rewarded.

While the director of public prosecutions has some discretion over whether or not to prosecute and judges have discretion in sentencing, there are concerns that the system needs to be more transparent and equitable to encourage more people to give evidence.

Violent crime is on the increase and many witnesses are simply unwilling to go to court to give evidence. There is a widely held perception in the community that the police should find out for themselves who committed crimes and should not expect witnesses to help them. This is fueled by  a significant lack of trust in the state in some deprived communities where people believe they have been abandoned by the authorities.

Seeking more ways to address this problem through legislation, the Law Reform Commission has drawn up a draft piece of legislation to provide for formal plead deals on crown evidence akin to that currently in effect in the UK. But the legal drafters are seeking input from the criminal bar as well as the wider public about whether or not Cayman should model the law on the British legislation, adopt the much wider and far more entrenched plea deal system in the US, or create legislation similar to that used in Jamaica.

In a formal discussion paper the commission points to concerns from the attorney general about the increase in firearms and gang-related crime and the number of failed prosecutions in the local court system where cases have collapsed because witnesses refuse to give evidence for fear of reprisals.

Opening the discussion paper, the officials point to a case where a local man was murdered after a case against him fell apart. “In one of the recent tragic cases after a witness refused to testify in a murder trial, a local man accused of the murder was released from jail. The former accused met his death on the streets some time later, gunned down near a popular nightclub,” the drafters stated, referring to the still unsolved killing of Justin Manderson last year.

While the introduction of a witness anonymity law has helped, it has not be a panacea and in some cases judges have ruled that it is not appropriate to protect the identity of known gang members who are giving evidence against rivals. The drafters said that following the UK’s lead with the statutory codification of Queen’s Evidence would offer another means of obtaining evidence from accomplices and securing quicker convictions.

They point to the problems that have arisen in the absence of a formal route to plea deals. In the case of Marlon Dillon, aka ‘Supergrass’, who gave evidence in two robbery cases and a murder, the courts learned during the process of the cases that Dillon, who was also charged robbery and possession of an imitation firearm in two of the cases where he gave evidence against his co conspirators, had been threatened by police.

This led to applications on behalf of the other defendants in the robberies and a murder case to have their cases thrown out because the evidence from Dillon was tainted. While in the end the applications failed and several people were convicted of the two robberies and another man of murder, supported by Dillon’s evidence, the way the system currently works had put those convictions at risk.

“If there had been a clear and transparent system of dealing with accomplice evidence, the process of obtaining evidence in this case may not have led to an application which could have seen the dismissal of charges against all of the defendants,” the drafters state in the discussion document.

Laying out possible alternatives to its proposed draft, the Law Reform Commission is asking people to weigh in on what could prove to be important legislation by contacting them no later than 15 November.

Submissions should be made to Jose Griffith, Acting Director of the Law Reform Commission, PO Box 1999 KY1-1104, delivered by hand to the offices of the Commission at 1st floor dms House, Genesis Close or sent by email to cilrc@gov.ky.

The Discussion Paper and the Bill are available here

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Category: Courts, Crime

Comments (7)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Or you could make it a crime to not come forward…as an alternate view!

  2. West bay Premier says:

    Why are these Politicians always trying to make legislation to protect the criminal , rather than trying to make legislation to wipe them out .

  3. Anonymous says:

    This is an excellent idea. I hope it is put in place ASAP. We need all the tools we can find to get the violent criminals off the street.

    We also need to look up how to isolate the worst offenders while they are in prison so that they don’t continue to run their gangs from inside. In addition, we need to prevent Northward from continuing in its current principal role as Cayman’s university of criminal behavior.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Okay – this will result in who squeals first gets less time! There are so many instances where the actual murderers get less time than the individual who stood and watched resulting in the “less guilty” of the two to serve the time that the more guilty perpetrator should be serving …. wait for it…. NOTE to the criminals … don’t commit crimes and if you cannot restrain yourself long not to … make sure you do the crimes alone so your “homie” don’t send you to rot!

  5. BELONGER says:

    Appropriate legislation for modern times.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Eyewitness testimony, the least reliable sort, is the best our bumbling keystones can muster since they aren’t out there to witness, intercede, or apprehend. They can’t even reliably collect evidence themselves without fouling it up somehow.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Better build a bigger prison before you set this law in place.

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