Government wants to include plea bargain in the code of criminal procedure as one of the strategies to effectively fight organised crime, according to State Minister for Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Evode Uwizeyimana.
He said this, yesterday, as he appeared before the parliamentary standing committee for political affairs and gender, who are dissecting the proposed amendment in the code criminal procedure.
A plea bargain is any agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and the defendant where the latter agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for a lenient sentence.
This may mean that the defendant will plead guilty to a less serious charge, or to one of the several charges, in return for the dismissal of other charges; or it may mean that the defendant will plead guilty to the original criminal charge in return for a more lenient sentence.
This attracted concern from legislators who wondered whether this will not escalate criminality in the country.
Referring to the common law system, Minister Uwizeyimana said that cases that, for instances, involve organised crime were high on the list of those that would usually require a plea bargain due to their nature.
This plea bargain also has the element of immunity where a suspect may be exonerated in exchange for vital information.
“It’s not uncommon in cases that for instance involve organised crime. Bringing down drug cartels, terrorism cells and cross border crimes requires cutting deals sometimes.
“You may get one of them and sentence him to life imprisonment but it won’t fix the problem long term. You are at the risk of losing time and resources pursuing sufficient evidence. Plea bargain deals have been very instrumental in dismantling criminal organisations and that is our motivation,” he explained.
Not a new idea
But plea bargain deals are not really a new idea in Rwanda. It was first introduced shortly before the introduction of Gacaca courts as one of the incentives to encourage category two and lower suspects to come forth, confess and volunteer vital information in exchange for lesser sentence.
Other incentives to plea bargain included having the suspects serve half of their sentence doing public works under what Works for General Interest (TIG) programme.
Uwizeyimana recalled the MPs that this initiative was instrumental in helping victims’ families locate remains of their slain loved ones through information provided by the suspects
Changing the trend
Discussing the article to do with fines, Minister Uwizeyimana said that the government was promoting harmony within the community by introducing fines instead of promoting prison sentences.
This is in line with what the Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye, said recently, in an interview with The New Times, that a lot of effort was being put on correction other than incarceration.
This, according to Busingye, would include fines and community work, in a move he said was aimed at riding correctional facilities of overcrowding, while, at the same time, offering correctional tips that would be instrumental in impacting inmates more positively.
“The plan is to see how we can, first of all, help those who are incarcerated to leave correctional facilities with skills and more responsible. We are also looking for ways how those who have committed petty crimes can be reformed without necessarily being held in correctional facilities,” he said.