Plea bargaining for minor drug offenses pushed
MANILA, Philippines – Senate President Vicente Sotto III wants plea bargaining agreements allowed for small-time drug offenders.
Sotto filed Senate Bill No. 492 which seeks to allow plea bargaining for violators of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, particularly small-time or low-level drug users and for possession of illegal drugs.
He reasoned out that allowing plea bargaining for such offenders would help unclog small-time drug cases pending in courts, which he said, burdens the country’s criminal justice system.
“The unparalleled number of small-time drug cases pending in courts causes burden to the country’s criminal justice system as regards to costs and efficiency in the speedy disposition of cases,” Sotto said in a statement on Thursday.
“Plea bargaining in these ‘small-time’ or ‘low-level’ drug cases will result in the prompt and final disposition of cases that in effect will unclog the court dockets and our jails,” he added.
Sotto explained that the current laws allow plea bargaining deals for all crimes, including heinous crimes, except for violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
As defined in Black’s Law Dictionary, plea bargaining is the “process where the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval.”
It is usually an arrangement where the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser offense in exchange for a lighter sentence.
Sotto explained that his bill seeks to amend the plea bargaining provision of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which prohibits any drug offender to avail such deals regardless of the penalty.
It also institutionalizes the Supreme Court (SC) order adopting the framework for plea bargain deals in drug cases.
Under the measure, plea bargaining “may be allowed only for a person who is found to be positive for use of any dangerous drug for a second time, after a confirmatory test.”
A person who pleads guilty of possessing up to 4.99 grams of crystal meth or “shabu”, opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine and other dangerous drugs; or less than 300 grams of marijuana would be allowed to seek a plea bargaining agreement.
A person can also avail a plea deal if he or she pleads guilty of possession of equipment and other paraphernalia for illegal drugs during parties, social gatherings or meetings, or in the company of at least two persons, provided that it is in reasonable quantity as determined by the court, the bill stated. /gsg
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