Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Govt to create proper DNA database

GOVERNMENT is moving towards creating a proper deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) database with law enforcement officers first in line and mandated under law to provide tissue samples as the State seeks to establish new ways and means to have a proper functioning judicial system.

Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said the database will see the retention of DNA profiles generated from samples for a period of 20 years and will be matched by a fingerprint database that will also retain samples for the same time.

The AG made the statement yesterday during the opening ceremony of a two-day plea bargaining workshop at Radisson Hotel, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, where discussions are being held to determine the way forward in utilising plea bargaining laws as a way of speedily dealing with the backlog of criminal matters before the courts.

The workshop is being hosted by the Office of the Attorney General, in collaboration with the United States Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago.

Those included in the discussions are judges, magistrates, State and defence attorneys, as well as officials from the US judicial system.

Prior to Ramlogan’s announcement, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard SC questioned the delay in the creation of a DNA bank, “so that the State, the defence and the court might be able to more quickly determine where the truth lies and therefore embrace plea bargaining”.

Gaspard said for plea bargaining laws to effectively work in this country, one had to take a closer look at the system and implement other measures that will  accompany it. 

He said Ramlogan recently made mention of plea bargaining being the “saving grace” of the United States’ judicial system, being the means by which 90 to 95 per cent of that country’s criminal cases were determined, but one must ask themselves why this is so.

“Is it because in the United States greater reliance is placed on scientific evidence when constructing cases for prosecution than is the case here? Is it because in the United States greater emphasis is placed on the proper resourcing, outfitting and staffing of key office-holders and stakeholders in the United States’ criminal justice system, such as the forensic science centres, the prosecutor’s offices and the public defender’s offices?” Gaspard asked.

He questioned why accused people would consider plea bargaining as an option when they can use intimidation tactics on witnesses and potential jurors, saying that systems must also be put in place where witnesses can be made to testify anonymously. Gaspard said in the United States, more people are inclined to plead guilty because scientific evidence “seems to make the prosecution’s case unassailable and so in the face of overwhelming odds, the accused believes that it is in his best interest to enter into a plea bargain”.

The DPP pointed out that within the past decade there were very few occasions in T&T when State attorneys had the luxury of relying on DNA and fingerprint evidence to prosecute a case. 

“So are we comparing a pear with a mango, or are we comparing a green mango with a ripe pear?” Gaspard asked. He said it was comforting to hear the AG say the State intended to pursue certain legislative agendas as it pertains to the elimination of preliminary enquiries.

“We must not lose sight of the fact that justice is the means by which established injustices are sanctioned or mitigated. The inordinate systemic delay of an accused person’s trial is an established injustice. The inordinate institutional delay of the trial of an accused person is an established injustice for both the accused and the victim. In fact, such a delay is an injustice for the State regardless of the innocence or guilt of the accused person,” said Gaspard.