Recent news accounts have questioned the propriety of plea bargains by the attorney general, which oftentimes reduce the original charges and sentence. Generally, the Office of the Attorney General cannot comment on cases before the courts as this is governed by the court rules. However, it is important to acknowledge the concerns recently expressed in the media by victims of crimes.
The role of the attorney general in criminal cases is to achieve justice. Every case is evaluated and many considerations are taken, including the victim’s input, before a plea deal is finalized. The discretion to plea bargain by the attorney general is a necessary tool in achieving justice for the victims of crimes and the people we serve, including defendants charged with a crime.
Our office, and especially the assistant attorneys general who prosecute criminal cases and the staff in the Criminal Division, feel compassion for those who have been victims of criminal behavior. Our office provides services to all victims of crimes once a case is referred by DPS for prosecution. We do not by law represent the victims, however, and must always balance our ethical obligations to all citizens within the CNMI.
Through the dedicated staff in the Office of the Attorney General’s Victim Witness Advocacy Unit, victims of crime are provided support and information, resources, transportation, referrals, and in court assistance, as well making sure that victims are compensated by way of restitution. In addition, the advocates also help reduce the financial, emotional, and physical consequences of criminal victimization.
Every case received by the Office of the Attorney General is reviewed. Investigations are thoroughly conducted, and victims are interviewed and informed of the criminal justice process. Lastly, prosecutors must decide whether or not there is enough evidence against the defendant for a realistic prospect of conviction. Not all cases have sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard burden of proof for charging a case for prosecution. Knowing a crime took place versus proving a crime took place are often at odds. Without sufficient and key evidence, a case cannot be prosecuted.
If you or someone you know is a victim of a crime, please feel free to call the Victim Witness Advocacy Unit at 237-7602 to find out more information. Victims are encouraged to report a crime to ensure their and the community’s safety.
Edward Manibusan is the attorney general of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.