This past week marked the beginning of Phase Three of the Juvenile Justice Pilot Program I have been working on for the past five months. Phase Three is the culminating judicial phase of the Program, with Phase Four only involving the resettlement of the children into their home villages by the probation officers.
Phase Three is what we are calling the Resolution Phase, and follows the Investigatory and Evaluative Phases. This Phase began on Monday with the kickoff of a Juvenile “Session.” When the Pilot Program officially began on March 1st, we had sixteen juveniles who had been charged with “capital” offenses, eligible for the death penalty if they had been adults. These cases were for murder, aggravated robbery, and aggravated defilement (unlawful sex with a minor). These juveniles had been imprisoned in a Remand Home (juvenile prison) from between nine and twenty-four months. This, even though the maximum time allowed for a juvenile to be held awaiting trial under Ugandan law is six months. Shortly after the Pilot Program commenced, one of the murder cases was dismissed after the prosecutors carefully evaluated the file. The juvenile in that case had been on remand for close a year. And then there were fifteen.
During the last week of May, the prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation officers, one Ugandan court research attorney, Shane (Pepperdine Nootbaar Fellow), and I gathered in my office’s conference room and utilized principles of plea bargaining, heretofore outside the Ugandan procedures and comfort zone. Then last week, the prosecutors and defense attorneys announced in court plea deals for ten of the remaining fifteen cases. And then there were five.
On Tuesday, nine of these ten kids will be sentenced, with either one or none having to serve additional time. (The other one will likely be committed to a mental health facility). Over the next two weeks, either one or two of the remaining five cases will be dismissed, and one other one will likely be plea bargained (a deal was already reached, but failed to come to fruition last week due to a dispute as to some of the facts when they were read into the court record). It looks like we will reach our goal of having four or fewer of the sixteen juvenile cases actually go to trial. All in all, we are very pleased and are praying that the court and the participants are able to carry this momentum into future sessions. Special thanks go to the American organization called Sixty Feet (www.sixtyfeet.org), known as Children’s Justice Initiative Ministries in Uganda, for footing the bill for the court and resettlement costs for this session.
A new set of prosecutors, defense lawyers, probation officers, and judges will be baptized into plea bargaining beginning in about ten days in Masindi – about three hours north of Kampala. Prayers are welcome.
In other developments, our good friends from Midland (Alan and Holly Brown) who have been living below us for the last three weeks got a court ruling about ten days ago, which granted them legal guardianship over Moses (Big Mo, as we all call him). We were thrilled. But in Uganda, that is not the end of the road. In addition to the ruling, one needs to get a written order signed by the court, which can then be taken to the Ugandan passport office to get a passport for the orphan child. With the written order and passport in hand, one then makes an appointment for a visa interview with the US Embassy. Only after receiving the visa can one leave with the child.
Well, between the ruling being announced in open court and the order being prepared and signed, the judge got sick. To recover from his illness, the judge went to another town about three hours away. The Browns were stuck. Their enterprising lawyer, however, was able to hire a court official to track the judge down and got the order signed, more than a week later. If all goes according to plan, they will get the passport tomorrow and then have a visa interview on Wednesday, allowing them to fly out by the end of the week. More prayer would be welcome.
This weekend has also brought some excitement. The water tank on the roof of our apartment building overflowed all night on Friday night, which caused water to seep into our ceiling in our living room. This, in turn, caused a cave-in of a portion of our ceiling. We were attempting to move many of our valuables out of the way when the plaster, electric fixtures, and metal supports tumbled down. Joline narrowly escaped serious injury, and is posting it about it shortly.
Today, we got to see Henry at his school during the last visitation day occurring while we are here. We are hoping to be able to get special permission to say goodbye to him next month. He is doing quite well and is in excellent spirits. Also there today was George Kakuru, who graduated two years ago from the secondary school Henry is currently attending. George has just completed his sophomore year at Pepperdine University.
Finally, I learned late last week that the appeal I will be arguing in Henry’s case will most likely be scheduled for argument in August – after we head home. This means that I will be making a return visit to Uganda sooner than I anticipated. This bad news was added to the fact that I got two flat tires this weekend, one on the car I drive and one when I stumbled on a footpath and grew an instant golfball on my right ankle.