Wednesday 13 December 2017

Man serving 18 years for having €6.4m of heroin has appeal dismissed

Michael Byrne of Old Tower Crescent, Clondalkin, arriving at Dublin District Court in 2008
Michael Byrne of Old Tower Crescent, Clondalkin, arriving at Dublin District Court in 2008

Aodhan O'Faolain

THE Court of Criminal Appeal has today dismissed a Dublin man's appealing against the severity of his 18-year sentence for having €6.4m worth of heroin in his van.

Michael Byrne (aged 39) of Old Tower, Clondalkin, was jailed for 18 years by Judge Frank O’Donnell in April 2010 after he was found guilty by a Dublin Circuit Criminal Court jury of the possession of heroin for sale or supply.

Byrne, who was a self-employed tiler, had pleaded not guilty to possession of 32kg of the drug in the Culmore Road area of Palmerstown on January 15, 2008.

The court heard that Byrne was observed by a Garda surveillance operation unloading the heroin from his van and hiding it in a park.

During the trial Byrne gave evidence that when he went to pick up his van, which he had lent to a friend of his brothers, he saw drugs in the back and panicked. He said that he was trying to get rid of the heroin when gardaí moved in and chased him.

This morning the three judge CCA comprised of Mr justice John Murray presiding, sitting with Mr Justice Michael Hanna and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan dismissed Byrne's appeal against the sentence. Byrne was not in court when the CCA delivered its ruling.

Byrne's lawyers had submitted when the appeal was heard last March that the sentence of 18 years had been imposed in error and that he was punished for running his case.

It had also been argued that Judge O’Donnell made comments during the sentence hearing which were factually incorrect or gave a greater emphasis than it was entitled to on particular points raised during the case.

His barrister Michael O’Higgins SC had argued the judge’s remark that Byrne had given a “Laurence Olivier” performance and had shed a “tear too far” were not factors the court could penalise him.

He said Judge O’Donnell was also incorrect in his assertion that “every issue” in the case was fought and contested.

Sean Gillane SC, for the DPP, opposed the appeal. Counsel argued Byrne's sentence should not be disturbed and that Judge O’Donnell’s comments had been taken out of context. Counsel said Judge O’Donnell had not punished Byrne for contesting the case

Giving the CCA's decision today Mr Justice Murray said "no error in principle" had been made by Judge O'Donnell when he imposed an 18 year sentence on Byrne. The size of the drugs cache spoke for itself, the Judge added.

The CCA, the Judge said rejected the argument that Judge O'Donnell had made remarks at Byrne's sentencing hearing that suggested he had penalised the accused for running the case.

Judge O'Donnell had made comments to the effect that there was little room for sympathy for Byrne. The CCA held those remarks "were no more that an acknowledgement that Byrne was not entitled to the more sympathetic treatment to which an accused who pleaded guilty and had exhibited remorse for their crimes would normally be entitled."

The offence that Byrne was found guilty of involved the possession of a large quantity of heroin for the purpose of sale and supply was "an extremely grave one" the Judge said.

The sheer quantity of and the type drugs involved in this case added to Byrne's past criminal record, which itself was minor in the context of the offence itself, the CCA found were aggravating factors in the case, Mr justice Murray added.

Byrne was at the time of the offence gainfully employed in a steady job, yet had been found in possession of a large quantity of heroin. Byrne's position was "very different" from those "exploited" by others to work as drug couriers or are "drug addicts struggling to escape from the terrors of their addiction."

"Those who become involved in the sale or supply of drugs do so in the knowledge that if they are convicted they are liable to to serve very substantial terms of imprisonment," the Judge added.

The minimum sentence that could applied in a case such as this was ten years, while the maximum was life the Judge continued.

The CCA also agreed to backdate Byrne's sentence to the time he first entered custody, which was six weeks prior to when the 18-year sentenced was imposed.

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