DPP v Doolin

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMs. Justice Kennedy
Judgment Date21 July 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] IECA 231
CourtCourt of Appeal (Ireland)
Docket NumberRecord Number: 244/19
Date21 July 2020
BETWEEN/
THE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS
RESPONDENT
-AND -
BRENDAN DOOLIN
APPELLANT

[2020] IECA 231

Birmingham P.

Edwards J.

Kennedy J.

Record Number: 244/19

THE COURT OF APPEAL

Sentencing – Harassment – Mitigation – Appellant seeking to appeal against sentence – Whether the sentencing judge failed to sufficiently discount for mitigating factors

Facts: The appellant, Mr Doolin, pleaded guilty to six counts of harassment contrary to s. 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. He received a sentence of five years’ imprisonment with the final two years suspended on terms. He appealed to the Court of Appeal against sentence on the grounds that the sentencing judge erred in placing the sentence at the upper end of the available range and failed to sufficiently discount for mitigating factors.

Held by the Court that the fact of six victims was a factor which aggravated the offending conduct and to reflect that factor and the other aggravating factors, the judge considered the appropriate pre-mitigation sentence to be one of five years’ imprisonment. The Court was entirely satisfied that this reflected the serious nature of the offending conduct, when one considers the appellant’s moral culpability and the harm done as a result of his actions. The Court was not persuaded that the judge erred in his approach; he clearly took account of the mitigating factors and suspended the final two years of the sentence to reflect those matters. The Court noted that the judge imposed conditions which took account of the nature of the appellant’s offending conduct and which were clearly designed to incentivise his rehabilitation and assist him in reintegrating into society.

The Court held that, as it found no error of principle, the appeal would be dismissed.

Appeal dismissed.

JUDGMENT of the Court (Ex tempore) delivered on the 21st day of July 2020 by Ms. Justice Kennedy .
1

This is an appeal against sentence. The appellant pleaded guilty to six counts of harassment contrary to section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997. The appellant received a sentence of five years’ imprisonment with the final two years suspended on terms.

Background
2

The offences in question concerned the online harassment of six women over a five-year period. The majority of the women in question are involved in journalism and all have public profiles with a social media presence. The harassment involved the sending of hundreds of emails over a prolonged period from various email accounts which did not permit the appellant to be identified. It also included sending tweets and posting commentary online. The messages continued despite repeated entreaties to stop. The campaign of harassment seemed to show that the appellant monitored the social media of the women in question and would often send them emails referring to tweets or articles they had written or simply sending them photos of themselves. The messages were often insulting and critical and led to the complainants feeling threatened and in fear.

Personal circumstances of the appellant
3

At the time of sentencing the appellant was 37 years old. He has no previous convictions. In the plea in mitigation the Court heard that the appellant was a recluse for much of his life and he seemed to struggle with a fear of social contact. During the sentence hearing the appellant offered an apology to the injured parties in which he expressed remorse for his actions.

The sentence
4

In sentencing the appellant the sentencing judge highlighted the prolonged and threatening nature of the appellant's offending which involved targeted intimidation and taking advantage of weaknesses and causing considerable trauma to the individuals in question.

5

In terms of mitigation, the sentencing judge described what he considered as “good mitigation” including that the appellant pleaded guilty, he cooperated with the Gardaí and made admissions, he has no previous convictions, he expressed remorse for his actions and he was unlikely to reoffend to this degree in the future. The sentencing judge also referred to the appellant's background and personal circumstances, describing the appellant as “a sad case.”

6

Given the multiplicity of victims and the prolonged nature of the offending which was described by the sentencing judge as “gravely reprehensible”, a custodial sentence was deemed appropriate and the sentencing judge imposed a sentence of five years’ imprisonment with the final two years suspended on terms in respect of each count, to run concurrently.

Submissions of the appellant
7

The appellant argues that the sentence of five years’ imprisonment with the final two years suspended is excessive in circumstances where the maximum sentence is seven years’ imprisonment. The appellant submits that the sentence imposed clearly does not take account of the mitigation present.

8

The appellant takes issue with the sentencing judge's failure to identify a headline sentence. Given the sentence imposed, the appellant submits that the sentencing judge erred in placing the offending at the upper end of the spectrum. Although the communication was persistent, even in the face of a clear plea by the injured parties to leave them alone, it is submitted that the content of the emails cannot be said to be towards the upper end of the scale of harassment, which can only be reserved for seriously threatening harassment that puts a person in fear of physical harm from another.

Submissions of the respondent
9

The respondent submits that the sentencing judge did not explicitly identify a headline sentence but it is submitted that the sentence of five years was a clear starting point. The respondent further submits that this Court has made it clear on numerous occasions that a failure to set an explicit headline sentence does not invalidate the sentence. The respondent argues that the rationale of the sentences imposed was clearly explained by the sentencing judge and he identified the aggravating and mitigating factors present before imposing the final sentence.

10

In terms of the appellant's argument that the offending was misplaced on the scale of severity, the respondent submits that this largely ignores the fact that some of the complainants were placed in fear of physical harm by the appellant's messages.

11

The respondent submits that given the paucity of judgments relating to harassment, and online harassment in particular, there is little assistance by way of precedent value to be drawn from earlier cases. However, the...

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1 cases
  • The People (at the suit of the DPP) v Kevin Molloy
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 19 Julio 2021
    ...of reoffending. In those circumstances, a sentence of three years' imprisonment was imposed.. Another case was The People (DPP) v Doolin [2020] IECA 231 which involved the harassment of six women via social media and the internet over a period of half a decade and which took the offending i......

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