Plea bargain may as soon as this year start to be used in Rwanda's criminal procedures as the country intensifies the fight against organised crime, The New Times has established.
The National Public Prosecution Authority (NPPA) has already worked on a draft for the guidelines for the use of plea bargaining in Rwanda, pending some internal approval before it can start to be implemented.
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. It may also mean that the defendant will plead guilty to the original criminal charge in return for a more lenient sentence.
The 2019 official gazette's article 26 and 27 provide for plea bargaining, but prosecutors have not been making use of it in their work, since there were no detailed guidelines of how to go about it.
But now Faustin Nkusi, the spokesperson of the NPPA, says that the draft guidelines are ready and soon the processes of approving them will take shape.
"We have a draft in the pipeline, pending approval by the senior management of the NPPA and the signature of the Prosecutor General," he said.
Plea bargaining is looked at as one of the strategies to effectively fight organised crime.
According to the brief details entailed in the 2019 official gazette concerning plea bargaining; at the end of the suspect's interrogation, "the prosecutor may propose a plea bargaining agreement whereby the suspect helps the prosecutor to obtain all the necessary information in the prosecution of the offence and to know other persons involved in the commission of the offence and in return of some benefits but without hindering good administration of justice."
Former State Minister for Legal and Constitutional Affairs, Evode Uwizeyimana, when he was talking to lawmakers back in 2018 about plea bargaining, he told them that such a tool can be instrumental in bringing down drug cartels, terrorism cells and cross border crimes.
"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.
The 2019 official gazette says, during a plea bargain, the prosecutor undertakes to make concessions to the suspect in relation to charges against him or her and the penalties that he or she may request.
In case of an agreement of plea bargaining, the public prosecution charges the suspect as agreed on by both parties.
"The court may admit or reject an agreement of plea bargaining but cannot alter the agreement. In case the agreement is admitted, the court, while taking a decision, considers the agreement on plea bargaining concluded between the public prosecution and the accused," article 27 of the official gazette reads.
In addition to this, suspect who enters into plea bargaining during investigations with the prosecution may be prosecuted while free.