The Georgian state budget received GEL 112,795,907 (about USD 67.7 million) in 2010 as a result of fines imposed by courts, as well as through use of plea bargaining agreements, according to official figures from the Georgian government.
The figure was made available in a report on Georgia’s justice system, released by Council of Europe’s (CoE) Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg, which also includes as attachment lengthy comments of the Georgian government in response to the report.
“The amount transferred to the state budget as the result of the fine imposed as punishment through the main hearing of the court, as well as through the use of plea bargaining agreements equals to GEL 112,795,907.1,” one of the government’s comments, made in response to the practice of plea bargaining discussed in the report, reads.
The figure, however, does not provide a detailed breakdown showing an amount received specifically from the plea bargain agreements.
According to official figures from the Georgian courts, plea bargaining was applied in 79.5% of judgments rendered against total of 19,956 people in the courts of first instance in 2010; rest of the judgments against 4,089 people or 20.5% of judgments were rendered through main court hearings.
In a December, 2010 report on plea bargaining system in Georgia, released by Transparency International-Georgia, the watchdog says that the system lacks transparency as it remained unclear exactly how much money was going into the state budget as a result of plea bargaining deals.
“According to the state treasury, there is no specific line item accounting for this revenue and, consequently, it is impossible to separate penalties paid because of plea agreements from other sources,” the TI-Georgia report said.
According to the prosecutor’s office GEL 61.1 million was imposed in plea bargaining-related penalties in 2009, but the prosecutor’s office had no information about the actual amounts paid, according to the same report by TI-Georgia.
Report by the CoE’ human rights commissioner, which discusses various aspects of Georgia’s justice system, pays special attention to practice of plea bargaining, which, the report says, “pervades the operation of criminal justice in Georgia.”
It said that “one of the peculiarities” of the Georgian plea-bargaining system is that fines can be imposed in the context of plea bargain agreements even for violations of the criminal code for which a fine is not envisaged as a mean of punishment.
“A combination of factors such as very high conviction rates, a stringent sentencing policy and the low public trust in the justice system can influence defendants to plead guilty even if innocent, leading to a distortion of justice,” the report by CoE’s human rights commissioner says and urges caution in respect of “to the powerful role that the prosecutor plays in the negotiation of the plea agreement.”
“According to the information obtained by the Commissioner, most defendants are virtually certain that they will be sentenced, and lawyers, instead of working towards their clients’ acquittal, advise them to plea-bargain with the prosecutor to reduce the sentence to a minimum,” says the report, which also notes a positive side of the system as being a successful tool in combating corruption and organized crime, as well as in speeding up adjudication and alleviating workload of courts.
According to the report while one of the provisions of the plea bargaining system, allowing full release from sentence in exceptional cases where there is cooperation with the investigation, may help in resolving criminal cases, “instances of abuse have been reported in this context.”
“The Commissioner’s attention was drawn to the dubious criminal case against an opposition activist, Levan Gogichaishvili, sentenced for intentional infliction of bodily harm, and whom the Commissioner met in Rustavi prison. Levan Gogichaishvili was originally arrested on the basis of a statement provided by the victim’s sister, who at that time was charged with a serious drug-related offence, but after testifying against Gogichaishvili was released on bail,” the report says.
The report was compiled after CoE human rights commissioner’s visit to Georgia in April to look into concerns, he said, he had been receiving from various sources and individuals over the administration of justice in Georgia.
The report also addresses allegations involving politically-motivated prosecutions.
“The Commissioner has received a considerable number of credible allegations and other information indicative of serious deficiencies marring the criminal investigation and judicial processes in a number of criminal cases against opposition activists. This casts doubt on the credibility of the charges retained and on the final convictions,” the report reads.