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Double Standard and Lack of Equal Protection of Law with Plea-Bargain Deals

20.06.2008
Nona Suvariani, Tbilisi

 
 Nestan Londaridze
In 2004 plea-bargain was introduced into the Georgian legislation and it creates unequal conditions for citizens. Judges and prosecutors can sign or cancel plea-bargain according to their own sympathies or other motivations.
Two examples from the criminal case records in Georgia confirm the above-mentioned possibility. In August of 2007 an under-age girl was raped. Sighnaghi District Court imposed sixteen-year-imprisonment on Nukri Nikvashvili, Zurab Zedelashvili and Zviad Kokoashvili, who were suspected of having committed the rape.

The relatives of the suspects claimed the investigation was biased and conducted in an improver direction.  They blamed Nugzar Lazariashvili, Sighnaghi District Prosecutor for showing partiality in the investigation.  The relatives the proceeded to state “the investigation was not at all interested in the possibility that Lia Mindiashvili and Dato Abulashvili, who should have been main suspects for the crime, and the  rape victim had mentioned their involvement in her initial testimony.”

Eka Kutibashvili, the wife of one of suspects, is sure that the victim changed the testimony and that some financial interests were involved.
Another case of rape occurred that month, and this time the alleged offender was Gocha Chikovani, a former employ of the Constitutional Security Department.
According to the bill of indictment, Giorgi Chikovani, an operative employee of the Rapid Reaction Unit of the Adjara Autonomous Republic’s Main Department of the Constitutional Security Department, rushed into the house of S.Ts. on August 28 and brutally raped her. “Chikovani called Ts. several times on the phone wanting to start a love affair with him. However, the woman turned off the phone and hoped that Chikovani would not bother her again and then went to bed. Chikovani then decided to break into the woman’s house and rape her. He had put on a mask, climbed up the fourth floor and entered the house by a balcony. He removed the mask and under threat of knife he brutally raped the woman. He then beat the victim, which then resulted in a brain concussion; her lower jaw was broken as a result, and both her eyes were bruised …. Giorgi Chikovani overcame S.Ts. with greater force and raped her,” stated the bill of indictment
Although, Chikovani was blamed for an especially grave crime, the state prosecutor and former employee of the CSD signed a plea-bargain agreement at the end of May 2008.

Initially Chikovani was sentenced to imprisonment; later on January 15 2008 the charge was changed and he was able to be bailed for 50 000 GEL in the office of Judge Roin Kakhidze. However, since February 5, when the accused did not attend the trial, and in spite of the fact that charge against him were especially serious.

Neither Roin Kakhiudze, the judge, considered the gravity of the crime, nor chose to change plea-bargain with the guilty party.
Nestan Londaridze, the lawyer for the Human Rights Center, spoke about such mistake that were observed during plea-bargain.
“Our center works on several cases about plea-bargain. These two cases are completely different from each other. One of them deals with illegal restriction of freedom of person; the crime is envisaged under the Article 144, paragraph II of the Criminal Code. Citizen Zaur Gonashvili was kidnapped and taken to the Pankisi Valley; he was injured in the process. Merab Tabaghuaw was the organizer of the kidnapping. However, the prosecutor proceeded to sign a plea-bargain deal with him; the accused was then released upon the payment of the bail of thirty thousand GEL. It is noteworthy that the attorney of the accused requested the bail of 50 000 GEL but the court refused because Merab Tabaghua had interfered the investigation. Nevertheless, a later plea-bargain was arranged and the accused was released on a bail of 30 000 GEL.

As for the second case, the criminal persecution was based on the thief of fuel. A person stole the fuel for the price 151, 2 GEL that was considered as a large amount of damages because it was 1, 20 GEL more than 150 GEL. Plea-bargain was signed in the amount of 10, 000 GEL and the accused was sent to prison for four years. He has to spend at least two years and a half in a penitentiary and the rest of sentence will be conditional on other factors.”
Nestan Londaridze compared such two facts with each other and stated that the conditions for signing plea-bargain are rather obscure.

“A person paid 10 000 GEL for the fuel of 151 GEL. While the second offender paid 30 000 GEL for kidnapping and wounding a person and he was set free. Besides that, the victim of the second offender is not protected because he has no guarantees that the guilty party, who gained his freedom so easily, would not try to kill him again.”
Nestan Londaridze states that the legislation must clarify the conditions for plea-bargain. It is important to estimate the kind and nature of crimes that cannot be discharged under the terms of plea bargains.

The lawyer underlined one more fault on the law of plea-bargain. “While arranging plea-bargain the interests of the victim is not taken into consideration. Nobody cares whether the victim will be compensated or not. My client has been undergoing medical treatment as a result of kidnapping and his injuries for seven years already. He is now in the hospital now and several operations have performed on him already.”

Lawyer Giorgi Turazashvili, manager and partner of the Bar Agency “Turazashvili, Dzagania, Razmadze” and member of the Georgian Bar Association, stated: “I think that if a plea bargain is signed on such a grave crime than the court should consider the legal implications of its decision.”
Giorgi Turazashvili added that lawyers appealed to the Constitutional Court against the law that deprives victims of the right to take part in the plea bargain agreement.

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