Plea bargains reducing the deterrent value of law
posted 6-Aug-2019  ·  
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 Just last May 2019, the Supreme Court, through Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, sent to the lower courts a copy of Minute Resolution dated April 2 for their “guidance and strict observance.”

The resolution pointed out that plea bargaining is always addressed to the sound discretion of the judge, guided by Court issuances such as Administrative Matter No. 18-03-16-SC on the adoption of the plea bargaining framework in drug cases.

 “Judges much decide cases based on evidence, law and jurisprudence, and they cannot just defer to the policy of another branch of the government,” the High Court stressed.

“However, if objections to the plea bargaining are valid and are supported by evidence to the effect that the offender is a recidivist, a habitual offender, or known in the community as a drug addict and a troublemaker, or one who has undergone rehabilitation but had a relapse, or has been charged many times, or when the evidence of guilt of the charge is strong, courts should not allow plea bargaining,” the SC averred, “because that will not help keep law and order in the community and the society.”

It likewise emphasized that just because the prosecution and the defense agree to enter into a plea bargain, it does not mean that the courts will approve the same.

“The judge must still exercise sound discretion in granting or denying plea bargaining, taking into account relevant circumstances, such as the character of the accused,” it urged.

Research done by the Tribune does not show if the High Court, in the past, issued a similar guide on plea bargaining on other crimes aside from drug offenses. Had it done so, the 16-year old student from Bato who was raped last week would be still enjoying her life as a teener, instead of seeing her bright future destroyed in a single night by a serial rapist.

Before he was arrested for the crime, Mark Anthony Romero had been charged not once but 15 times for sexual abuse, with the criminal cases either dismissed or the accused let off with a brief stay in jail after consecutive plea bargains. He had been out of prison for short time after plea bargaining his way through twin cases of kidnapping, serious illegal detention and attempted rape just last March 2019.

It is likewise unfortunate that the Senate has failed to approve the proposed Plea Bargaining Act filed by detained Sen. Lilia de Lima that might have kept beneficiaries of such sweetheart deals in jail.

Under Senate Bill No. 1677, the senator said that the setting of guidelines, including the imposition of sanction for violation thereof, should ensure that the plea bargaining process does not become a mere vehicle for diluting the gravity of the offense charged against the accused, for destroying the deterrent value of the law intended to proscribe the offense committed, and/or for creating opportunities for graft and corrupt practices.

The de Lima bill provides that prior to considering a plea bargain, both the prosecution and the court are both duty bound to inquire carefully into the circumstances and motivations on which these are premised, to the end that the interest of justice and of the public will be served.

“Plea bargaining shall not be entered into when it will only serve to trivialize the seriousness of the offense charged against the accused and negate the deterrent value of the law intended to proscribe the offense committed,” the former Justice Secretary-turned-senator stressed.

Unless the Senate and Congress find time to consider and pass this bill, a lot more women and teenaged girls will become victims of morally reprehensible crimes perpetrated by individuals who, with the unwitting help of the government, escape responsibility by exploiting loopholes in the law.

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