SC urges lower courts to exercise sound discretion on plea bargains
posted 1-Jul-2019  ·  
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The Supreme Court has asked lower courts to strictly observe its recently-issued guidelines on the approval of plea bargains.

Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez, in OCA Circular No. 80-2019 issued last May 30, 2019, sent to the courts a copy of Minute Resolution dated April 2 of the SC en banc 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.

It stated that if the objection is solely to the effect that it will weaken the drug campaign of the government, then the judges may overrule such objection because they are constitutionally bound to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable.

“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.

According to sources, the two salas of the RTC in Catanduanes have approved a number of plea bargains offered by the several accused in drug cases.

The Catanduanes police provincial office said it has data on the number of such cases filed in the courts as well as those convicted or acquitted, but it has no information on those whose plea bargain offers were approved.

Police provincial director Col. Paul Abay told the Tribune that his office has already asked the RTC to provide them with such data.

He clarified that while the local police has not objected to plea bargains for lesser drug offenses such as possession of illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia, it draws the line at drug pushing as any plea bargains granted would encourage pushers to continue plying their trade in defiance of the law.

Abay opined that it is rare for drug suspects to continue committing the same crime after being arrested for their first offense but admitted that there are a few who have been rearrested for the same offense after being granted bail or acquitted of the initial charge.

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