Thursday 5 December 2019

Prosecutors fail to argue for review of sentences imposed on three Vietnamese nationals for cannabis offences

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Ruaidhrí Giblin

Prosecutors have failed to argue for a review of sentences imposed on three Vietnamese nationals for cannabis offences on grounds that they were “unduly lenient”.

Choung Vu (45), was found guilty at Trim Circuit Criminal Court of cultivation of cannabis at Ballinlough, Kells, Co Meath in July 2011, having denied the charges. Mr Vu had also been found guilty of possession of the drug and possession for sale or supply on the same occasion but successfully appealed these counts in the Court of Appeal last November.

His co-accused Kham Tu (61) had pleaded guilty to cultivation and Tuan Cong Le (53) had pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of the drug on the same occasion.

On July 8, 2015, Judge Francis Comerford sentenced Choung Vu to six years imprisonment with the final three suspended, Kham Tu to four years imprisonment with the final two-and-a-half suspended consecutive to a sentence imposed one day earlier in Naas Circuit Court and Tuan Cong Le to four years imprisonment with the final three suspended.

The Director of Public Prosecutions had sought a review of the mens' sentences on grounds that they were “unduly lenient”.

Hovever, giving judgment today, Mr Justice John Edwards said the Court of Appeal was satisfied that the Circuit Court judge properly weighed and assessed the seriousness of the case with regard to both culpability and harm done.

He said the Circuit Court judge had sought to achieve proportionate and just sentences taking into account the personal circumstances of the three men.

Mr Justice Edwards, who sat with Mr Justice George Birimingham and Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan, said the court was not satisfied that any of the sentences were unduly lenient.

In a cross appeal, Mr Justice Edwards said the court found Choung Vu's sentence was not excessive and the court accordingly dismissed his appeal.

The court heard that between 126 and 129 plants were found in the house at Ballinlough at various stages of maturity and the potential yield of the plants was valued at €100,000.

Barrister Carl Hanahoe BL, for the DPP, submitted to the Court of Appeal that the three men were distinguishable from other Vietnamese nationals charged with similar offences in that they were legally in this jurisdiction or in the UK.

Mr Hanahoe submitted that the trial judge erred in adopting a starting point which was “appropriate for gardeners”.

Of the four comparative cases identified, Mr Hanahoe said three involved foreign nationals who were either illegal migrants or who had been trafficked into the country and were acting under some degree of duress.

In each of these cases, sentences of three to five years were identified as appropriate, counsel said.

The sentences in this case were indicative of that type of situation but those circumstances did not apply to any of these three individuals, he said.

Mr Hanahoe said Kham Tu was identified as the person 'Andy Lu' who rented the premises and was involved in setting up the growhouse.

Tuan Cong Le indicated that he had been paid to provide electrical services while Mr Vu had travelled into the jurisdiction “at liberty” from the UK, Mr Hanahoe said.

Mr Justice Edwards said the comparative cases were not identical in relation to the scale of the offence or the roles of the accused.

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