A COURT has ruled that it would be unjust to jail a man who had previously avoided a custodial sentence for dangerous driving causing death -- despite finding the sentence in the case had been too lenient.
The Court of Criminal Appeal yesterday imposed a four-year suspended sentence on the man, following an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions against the undue leniency of the original sentence.
Robert Eustace (36) had a history of blackouts and was under medical advice not to drive a heavy goods vehicle when the lorry he was driving veered on to the incorrect side of the road and crushed the car driven by Aoife Kelly (21).
In June 2011 Eustace avoided a jail sentence after he was fined €1,500 and disqualified from driving for eight years by Judge Alice Doyle at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court.
Eustace, with a last address at Bachelor's Wall, Hayestown, had pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Ms Kelly at Adamstown, Dublin, on September 18, 2009.
Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, presiding at the Court of Criminal Appeal, yesterday said the court found that this sentence was unduly lenient.
Counsel for the DPP had submitted that the fact Eustace had a prior medical condition and had been advised not to drive lorries was an aggravating factor which Judge Doyle failed to take in to account.
Mr Justice Hardiman said there has been an "unfortunate habit" of conferring an additional jurisdiction on the appeal court without conferring additional resources, as the court had to deal with the "entirely new jurisdiction" of prosecution appeals against undue leniency of sentence with no actual increase in resources.
He said the court noted that it had been two-and-a-half years since the case had been dealt with in the Circuit Court, and it happened increasingly that appeals are heard after the expiration of the sentences imposed.
Mr Justice Hardiman said that these factors were bringing the administration of justice into disrepute.
He said that although the case was a "huge tragedy" which had a "drastic effect" on everybody connected, the court could not see that it would be just after two-and-a-half years to substitute a non-custodial sentence with a custodial one.
On the other hand, Mr Justice Hardiman said, the medical evidence was a major aggravating factor and there was evidence of sufficient warning and advice to Eustace to abstain from driving heavy vehicles.
He said the court would impose a sentence of four years' imprisonment suspended for the period of the eight-year driving disqualification.
The court heard that the lorry driven by Eustace veered to its incorrect side of the road, mounted the victim's car and almost drove over it. Ms Kelly, the driver of the car, was pronounced dead at the scene.