An Update on the Pilot Public Defender Project

May 4, 2017 | By Nicole Banister (JD ’15) — Since I arrived in January, I have been working with Andrew to build the proper foundation for a sustainable pilot project. This required many meetings between Andrew, myself, and relevant Judiciary officials. We meet on multiple occasions with Justice Margaret Mutonyi who is currently the resident judge of Mukono. While this pilot public defender project is focusing on the Magistrate Courts, it is important to ensure Judiciary buy-in at the High Court level. Additionally, Justice Mutonyi has been a great champion of plea bargaining at the High Court and is the best person we could hope to have as the resident judge of the court where the pilot project is implemented.

Along with our many meetings, I have been assisting Andrew in completing an assessment of plea bargaining at the High Court level. We have been gathering data, meeting with judges, state attorneys, and defense advocates, and working to identify successes and challenges in the current plea bargaining program. We are also hoping that this assessment will help guide the rollout of plea bargaining in the Magistrate Courts.

As of the end of March/early April, we have now begun working with a defense attorney who may be brought on as one of the pilot public defenders. I am working with the defense advocate, Aloysius, to prepare cases for a plea bargaining session in Mukono Chief Magistrate’s Court. If everything goes well, we would like to bring Aloysius on as one of the public defenders.

As of now we are going to Kauga prison in Mukono about twice a week to meet with the inmates and register remand prisoners for plea bargaining. We have met with the Chief Magistrate and the Resident State Attorney in order to pull together the files of those who have signed up. I expect that the plea bargains will take place over the course of the next few weeks.

I am hopeful that with sustained funding for the pilot project we will be able to bring on another defense advocate in order to facilitate on going plea bargaining.

I am encouraged by the support for and commitment to the project from all Judiciary stakeholders involved. Justice Mutonyi has been able to lend guidance and advice and has assumed a strong role as the leader of this project. I am confident that because this is a Judiciary project and not just a Pepperdine initiative, that it will be successful as well as sustainable.

We are hopeful that by the date of the plea bargaining conference in June, we will have successfully plea bargained many cases in the Mukono Chief Magistrate’s Court and will be able to encourage further support of the public defender project.

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