Saturday 10 December 2016

Man jailed for possessing €2.5m worth of cannabis has nine-year jail term reduced

Ruaidhrí Giblin

Published 04/12/2015 | 18:19

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A Dublin man who was homeless and depressed when he was caught possessing €2.5m worth of cannabis has had his nine year jail term cut by 18 months on appeal.

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Gary Byrne (42), of Belcamp Gardens, Coolock, had pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possessing the drug for sale or supply at two lock-ups in Rosemount Business Park, Ballycoolin and North West Business Centre, Blanchardstown on two occasions in June 2013.

He was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment with the final three years suspended by Judge Patricia Ryan on March 19, 2015.

Byrne successfully appealed his sentence today on grounds that a number of mitigating factors did not appear to have been taken into account by the judge and accordingly, the Court of Appeal resentenced him to 12 years in prison with the final four-and-a-half years suspended.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice Alan Mahon said Byrne was observed by gardaí during a surveillance operation driving a vehicle from a petrol station to the Rosemount business park on the first occasion.

He entered the lock-up but was stopped on his way out. In a subsequent search gardai found a large number of boxes containing cannabis herb with a street value of more than €1.5m.

Nearly three weeks later, gardaí searched another unit at the business park using keys they had found on Byrne on the first occasion and another €1m worth of cannabis was found.

Mr Justice Mahon said Byrne's only previous conviction concerned the theft of drugs from a pharmaceutical factory for the purpose of supplying them to an individual to whom he owed money for drugs.

His barrister, Michael O'Higgins SC, submitted that the judge failed to consider whether there were exceptional and specific circumstances which would justify departing from the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment for possession of drugs worth more then €13,000.

When asked whether the three year suspension, which brought the headline sentence of 12 years down to an operative sentence of nine, meant the judge had idenitified exceptional and specific circumsntance, Mr O'Higgins submitted that the proper method would have been to simply sentence Byrne to nine years in prison.

He said it was “ambiguous” and could be viewed as an implicit rejection of any such circumstances.

Citing case law, Mr O'Higgins said the suspended portion of a sentence was still a sentence.

Mr Justice Mahon said the sentencing judge, without specifically stating so, appeared to find exceptional and specific circumstances such as to justify departing from a 10 year term.

He said the headline figure of 12 years was an appropriate sentence in this case having regard to the substantial value of the drugs and Byrne's relevant previous conviction.

However, a number of mitigating factors did not appear to have been taken into account Mr Justice Mahon said. They were Byrne's relatively minor role, his low risk of reoffending and the number of significant personal problems he has had to endure including homelessness, depression, suicidal ideation and drug addiction.

Mr Justice Mahon, who sat with Mr Justice George Birmingham and Mr Justice John Edwards, said there had been an error in this regard.

The Court of Appeal increased the suspended portion of Byrne's sentence from three years to four-and-a-half leaving him with a net jail term of seven-and-a-half years.

He was required to enter into his own bond of €100 to keep the peace and be of good behaviour while in custody and for three years post release.

When asked if he undertook to be so bound, Byrne said “yes”.

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