On November 19, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI)—in coordination with Partners for Democratic Change Serbia—held a roundtable on plea bargaining under Serbia’s Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), which went into effect on October 1. Held in Belgrade, the roundtable was attended by about 75 people, including advocates, prosecutors, judges and government officials.
Dragoljub Djordjevic, president of the Bar Association of Serbia, Gordon Duguid, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, Djordje Ostojic, from the Public Prosecutor’s Office and Blazo Nedic, from Partners for Democratic Change Serbia, made opening remarks, welcoming participants to the event. While plea bargaining has been used in Serbia’s special courts for war crimes and organized crimes since 2009, the number of agreements reached remains low. The current CPC introduces it to all criminal courts.
The roundtable fostered an environment of collegiality and non-partisanship among justice sector actors who traditionally haven’t had open communications with each other, allowing them to discuss the applicability and benefits of plea bargaining. Partners for Democratic Change Serbia invited local, regional and international experts to explain the practice and role of plea bargaining in their respective jurisdictions. David Lewis, resident legal adviser at the U.S. Embassy, and Hon. Denise R. Johnson, ABA ROLI legal specialist, talked about the integral role plea bargaining plays in the U.S. justice system, emphasizing that it can serve the interests of all parties. Senka Novica, an attorney from Sarajevo, spoke about the use of plea bargaining in Bosnia-Herzegovina, while Danilo Nikolic, a well-known expert on plea bargaining in Serbia and a Ministry of Justice official, outlined relevant CPC provisions.
Throughout the remainder of the day, panel discussions addressed practical topics, such as negotiations, the role of courts, the interest of victims, the mandatory contents of a plea agreement, restitution, sentence execution and the institutional obstacles to reaching agreements. At the end of the deliberations, participants emphasized that all sides should recognize that a plea agreement is a negotiation that may be initiated by either side, and came up with some recommendations. They suggested that a plea agreement consider the strengths and weaknesses of a case, that an offer include specific benefits for the defendant in exchange for waiving his or her right to trial, and that the deputy prosecutor have the authority to negotiate plea agreements, including by offering a sentence below the specified minimum and amending the indictment to reduce charges. Participants also agreed that successful implementation of plea bargaining requires a culture of negotiation and direct communication.
The roundtable is part of ABA ROLI’s program to build the capacity of Serbian criminal defenders, which is funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. ABA ROLI and Partners for Democratic Change Serbia will hold three more roundtables outside of Belgrade.
To learn more about our work in Serbia, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].