Plea bargaining options discussed by legal minds

Judges, prosecutors, lawyers and the police in Negros Oriental have recently met to resolve as to whose guidelines will prevail in the implemen tation of Plea Bargaining for drug suspects.

Plea bargaining is the process by which an accused admits guilt of his crime but pleas for a lesser penalty. This will save time money and effort in holding trials. But how much penalty can a judge go lower was the subject of this gathering of legal minds.

Integrated Bar of the Philippines Negros Oriental chapter president Atty. Nilo Ruperto, in his report during the Police Advisory Council (PAC) meeting last week disclosed that the dialogue was called for to thresh out conflicting rulings, procedures and recommendations on Plea Bargaining between the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court.

The dialogue was attended by judges, prosecutors, PAO lawyers, SU law students, Supt George Badon representing the provincial command, Dumaguete chief of police Supt Jonathan Pineda and other stakeholders, hosted by Silliman College of Law headed by Atty. Sheila Lyn Catacutan- Besario and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines- Negros Oriental Chapter headed by Atty Nilo Ruperto.

The judges insisted they will make a ruling according to guidelines set by the Supreme Court despite the objection of prosecutors, especially on Section 5 of RA 9165 otherwise known as the Comprehensive Drugs Law of 2002.

According to the judges, they will allow individuals accused of violating Section 5 to plea bargain for a lesser offense, provided the quantity is not more than one gram.

According to the IBP president, most judges and trial lawyers have noticed that 90 percent of buy-bust cases or selling (Section 5) have less than one gram of shabu involved but when found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, the penalty is reclusion perpetua.

Under the guidelines, the court is supposed to secure the consent of the assigned prosecutor or from the arresting officer.

Atty. Ruperto said per experience, the prosecutor would refuse to give the consent for the accused to plea bargain so that the arresting officer will be asked for his opinion and consent.

He said the DOJ where the prosecutors belong would allow plea bargaining of Section 5 but with certain limits with a the penalty of 12 years imprisonment while the Supreme Court guidelines allows plea bargaining on Section 5 with a penalty of four years for less than one gram of shabu confiscated.

It was the understanding of all present that drug suspects cannot avail of the guidelines on plea bargaining if it involves large quantity of drugs.