Thursday 17 January 2019

Solicitor who had cocaine in his wallet on prison visit to be spared career-threatening conviction

Aonghus McCarthy, a solicitor, is accused of conveying a controlled substance into Mountjoy Prison Pic: Courtpix
Aonghus McCarthy, a solicitor, is accused of conveying a controlled substance into Mountjoy Prison Pic: Courtpix
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

A solicitor who had a bag of cocaine in his wallet when he was stopped on his way to visit a client in jail is to be spared a career-threatening criminal conviction.

Aonghus McCarthy (32) pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of the drug, but insisted he did not know how it got in his wallet, and suspected someone had put it there at a party.

Judge Gerry Jones accepted the explanation after hearing Mr McCarthy had experience of professional prison visits and would have been "well aware" he was going to be searched.

Adjourning the case, he said he would strike the charge out if the defendant paid €1,250 to a drugs charity.

The judge said Mr McCarthy was in a “noble profession” but he was treating him no differently to anyone else.

The solicitor, from Co Cork, but with an address at Wellington House, Clancy Quay, Dublin 8 pleaded guilty to simple possession of €26 worth of cocaine.

A more serious charge of conveying a drug into prison was dropped by the prosecution, Dublin District Court heard.

Mr McCarthy, who is on the panel of free legal aid solicitors, represented a number of clients in the court before his own case was dealt with.

He then moved from the lawyers’ bench and stood in the body of the courtroom for the hearing.

Garda Sergeant Zita Woods was led in evidence by Lorcan Staines BL, for the prosecution.

She said a prison officer was on duty at 6.30pm on February 8, 2017 when Mr McCarthy case in looking for a professional visit.

He presented himself at security and placed some items into a tray, including a belt and it was sent through the x-ray machine. He also placed his wallet into the tray as well as part of standard procedure.

The items went through the officer saw on the screen there was a black patch within the wallet which concerned her. She stopped the machine and there was a section in the wallet where one might keep a wallet chain. There was a suspect package in it which she believed might have a controlled drug.

She went to get a colleague and when she came back, Mr McCarthy had the wallet in his hand, looking at it. The plastic wrapper had a white substance in it, the court heard.

Garda Barry Brennan then arrived from Mountjoy Station and the package was placed in a sealed evidence bag, the court heard.

The garda met Mr McCarthy and introduced himself. The accused denied owning the cocaine and was invited to the garda station, where he was interviewed and gave a voluntary statement.

He was asked did he recognise the substance in the bag and replied: “no, not at all.”

Mr McCarthy accepted it had been found in his wallet, he said he had been on a professional visit and had “no idea how it had got there.”

The defendant also told gardai he would try to “retrace his steps over the last few days” including other visits.

“I absolutely, 100pc did not put that in my wallet,” he told gardai. “Somebody else must have put it there.”

He said he did not do drugs and “wouldn’t risk the entirety of my career.” He did not know who would do it and said he would ask around.

Mr McCarthy said he was “into fitness”, had no history of drug use, and all his family could vouch for this.

“I don’t take drugs,” he said.

When Garda Brennan met him again, Mr McCarthy said he was conducting an investigation into who put the drugs in his wallet and he suspected somebody he had been at a party with. No more came of this.

He was subsequently charged with conveying a drug into prison, then later with simple possession of cocaine.

The weight was 0.33 grammes.

Mr McCarthy had denied the conveying charge but that was withdrawn by the prosecution today.

The court heard Mr McCarthy only had one previous conviction for driving without insurance, for which he was fined at Middleton District Court in 2012.

Defence solicitor Michael Hanahoe said Mr McCarthy was a “professional person and was visiting professionally to Mountjoy” so he was “well aware anybody visiting Mountjoy would be searched.”

He asked Judge Jones to accept that Mr McCarthy did not know the cocaine was in his possession because he was a man with some experience of going into prisons and he knew he would be searched.

However, he accepted responsibility for it and it was a “very small amount of drugs,” Mr Hanahoe said.

“He is an intelligent and successful man who has suffered greatly as a result of this,” he continued. “The State has accepted a plea to simple possession and I would ask you to deal with the case on that basis. He has a good future in front of him and places himself at the mercy of the court.”

“I am glad the State has withdrawn the (other charge) because I couldn’t see that going too far,” the judge said.

“I am not going to treat him any differently from any other defendant who appears before me,” he said, adding that he always gave people a chance.

“In particular, the profession he is in is a noble profession. I do accept that he probably didn’t know it was there, nevertheless it was there.”

He told Mr McCarthy to pay €1,250 to the Merchant’s Quay Project and said he would strike the case out, adding that he was giving him one chance and only.

He adjourned the case to March 6 for confirmation of the payment and said he would impose a conviction and fine in default if it is not paid.

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