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Robber challenges 21 year-jail term after plea bargain

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Robber challenges 21 year-jail term after plea bargain

 

A 32-year old man, Daniel Okpara accused of armed robbery has told a Lagos court that a 21 year-old prison term being presented before it after his plea bargain by the state Justice Ministry was without his consent.

Okpara was docked alongside three others on a two-count charge of conspiracy and armed robbery before an Ikeja Special Offences Court, Lagos.
Others are a 32-year-old Lebanese and mother of five, Amira Abdallah, a 37-year-old mobile policeman, Paul Trior and a 32-year-old driver, Royal Nwabakiru.

However, the accused person’s lawyer, Victor Opara said that after being urged by the Ministry of Justice at the maximum Kirikiri prison to opt for a plea bargain agreement, Okpara was slammed with a 21 year jail term without his input or consultation.

While arguing before the court, Opara said that the Ministry presented his client with an option of plea bargaining which he did, but refused to grant him an opportunity to bargain his sentence.
He said: “The component part of a plea bargain agreement is that the defendant must be heard regarding the decision or outcome of the bargain. The defendant is not just an onlooker but an active or constituent partaker.

“The plea bargain agreement is part of the Criminal Jurisprudence in Lagos State currently and codified in the Administration of Criminal Justice Law.
“Section 75 and 76 states emphatically how defendants can utilize the opportunity.

“Moreover, I believe that if you want to save tax payers’ money and you feel that it won’t be wise to allow a lengthy trial, then you can bargain your sentence. What we actually have as plea bargain simply entails the act of bargaining ones sentencing because invariably, the person would surely plead guilty for a lesser offence.
“Hence, a certain amount or item would be given to the state as restitution. Then you negotiate and bargain your sentence.

“However, where that is agreed upon by the prosecution and the defendant in terms of restitution and the sentence to be given, then an agreement would be signed by the defendant in front of his lawyer, which would then be brought before a court.

“The court has the powers to either say yes or no to the agreement. The court has the powers to inform the defendant that it would not agree with the bargain and therefore can decide or rule on a higher sentence.
“In a case where the court disagrees with the agreement and decides to go for a higher sentence, the defendant can equally opt out of the agreement and decide to go in for trial.
“So, when the concept was newly introduced, the Ministry of Justice as part of its duties went to the prisons to sensitize defendants about how they could key into the opportunity or the advantages therein; which is a statutory position.
“And this is what happened in the case of Okpara. I, as his counsel, was totally unaware. My client was the one who informed me of his decision to go for a plea bargain. When that happened on his behalf, I drafted a letter to the Ministry of Justice asking to utilize the plea bargain window.
“We did not receive any response from them either by letter or phone call, only for us to be told that a 21-year sentence has already been decided upon and issued by the Ministry without our input.
“This is unacceptable and the Ministry must follow due process because since it’s an agreement, my client must be heard. He cannot just be given a sentence without an opportunity of bargaining. If there is no bargaining involving the participation of the defendant then there ought to be plea bargain agreement.
“This is all we’ve come to inform the court,” he said.
Justice Josephine Taiwo, however, adjourned the matter to July 21 for defence.

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