From October 18-20, 2022, INL's Caribbean Anti-Crime Grant, implemented by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), hosted a 3-day Workshop and Roundtable Discussion on Plea Agreements for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution and Office of the Attorney General (OAG), respectively. The program consisted of expert presentations on best practices, legal framework, internal policies, and approaches surrounding plea agreements. The workshop culminated with a Roundtable Discussion on Plea Agreements for key stakeholders on Friday, October 21, 2022.
The prosecution workshop was requested by OAG and is part of an initiative to increase the use of plea agreements due to a high number of pending criminal matters in courts and defendants in jail awaiting trials. Plea agreements allow for the early disposition of cases, reducing court backlogs and the lengthy trial process. It renders justice for victims and defendants, preserves scare resources, and in turn contributes to restoring public trust and confidence in the justice system.
Approximately 82 prosecutors from Port of Spain, San Fernando, and Tobago attended the workshop and subsequent breakout sessions. The US experts were current and former state and federal prosecutors from North Carolina, Illinois and New York - Kimberly Moore, Natosha Cuyler Toller, Enrique Abraham, Pishoy Yacoub and Jennifer Naiburg. The experts presented best practices from their respective jurisdictions and highlighted the importance of engaging in plea agreements as a way of delivering swift justice to victims and accountability to the accused. The team outlined the different types of plea discussions, considerations for plea offer, and internal or external systems available to effectively manage a high volume of cases. Opening remarks for the workshop were made by U.S. Embassy Port of Spain Charge d’Affaires, Shante Moore, Attorney General & Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
In the Pre-Workshop survey, a majority of participants indicated that they had never handled a case that was resolved by a plea agreement. However, many agreed that it is a useful mechanism to resolve pending criminal cases and reduce court backlogs. In the Post-Workshop survey, all prosecutors stated that they are more willing to consider the use of plea negotiations to resolve their cases.
NCSC led the Roundtable Discussion on Plea Agreements on Friday, October 21, 2022. The event was attended by 48 Judges, Masters, Magistrates, Attorneys, Law Enforcement Officers, Prison Supervisors, and members of Law Associations attended in-person and virtually. Speakers at the opening of the event included U.S. Embassy Port of Spain Deputy Chief of Mission, Megan Kelly, Director of Public Prosecutions, Roger Gaspard, Minister of Legal Affairs, Renuka Sagramsingh-Sooklal, and Chief Public Defender, Hasine Shaikh.
Key areas emphasized in the discussions included barriers and challenges to entering into plea agreements, opportunities for stakeholder engagement, further training, and revision of the legislation.
NCSC experts with U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires Shante Moore, INL Unit Chief Fred Bolageer, The Hon. Attorney General Reginald Armour, DPP Roger Gaspard, and
Deputy DPP George Busby at the Opening Ceremony of the Plea Agreement Workshop
NCSC Program Director JoAnne Richardson with The Hon. Attorney General Reginald Armour, DPP Roger Gaspard, and U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires Shante Moore at the Opening Ceremony of the Plea Agreement Workshop
Deputy DPP George Busby participating in the Plea Agreement Workshop
NCSC expert Pishoy Yacoub presenting on Case Assessment at the
Plea Agreement Workshop