DPP v Hanley

CourtCourt of Appeal (Ireland)
JudgeMr. Justice Sheehan
Judgment Date20 March 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] IECA 112
Docket Number121/12
Date20 March 2015

[2015] IECA 112


Birmingham J.

Sheehan J.

Edwards J.


The People at the Suit of the Director of Public Prosecutions
Gary Hanley

Conviction – Possession of cannabis resin – No case to answer – Appellant seeking to appeal against conviction – Whether trial judge was correct in allowing the matter to go to the jury

Facts: The appellant, Mr Hanley, was convicted in December, 2011 of the offence of possession of cannabis resin contrary to ss. 3 and 27 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and possession of cannabis resin for the purpose of selling or otherwise supplying it to another contrary to ss. 15 and 27 of the 1977 Act. The cannabis was deemed to be worth €7,310.40. The appellant was sentenced to six years imprisonment with the final two years suspended. The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal against the conviction on the ground that the trial judge failed to withdraw the case from the jury upon an application by the defence that there was no case to answer. The case was based on two pieces of circumstantial evidence, namely a fingerprint on the inside of the flap of a plastic bag and the appellant”s proximity to a wheelie bin where the drugs were found. The appellant had contended that the evidence was not sufficient to allow the case to go to a jury. The appellant submitted that the forensic evidence, along with the surrounding facts, led to a rational hypothesis consistent with innocence whereby the bag was touched when it was in the wheelie bin. It was further submitted that the background facts and the manner in which the fingerprint was on the tear supported an innocent explanation, whereby the outside layer over the drugs could have been handled by the appellant in an innocent manner while in the wheelie bin. It was the submission of the appellant that the evidence was consistent with someone taking a finger and moving the flap to one side. The respondent, the DPP, rejected the appellant”s suggestion that this was a case in which innocent rummaging was a possible explanation for the fingerprint and contended that that explanation was not supported by the finding of any other fingerprints of the appellant, for example, on the shopping bag that was also found within the zipped bag. The respondent also submitted that this particular submission of the appellant ignored the fact that the plastic bag was clear and transparent and the contents were visible to anyone looking at the bag so that there was no need to open it to see what was there.

Held by Sheehan J that, having applied R v Galbraith [1981] 1 WLR 1039, the Court agreed with the view contended for by the respondent who relied upon an extract from Blackstone”s Criminal Practice (2015 Ed) at para. D 16.65, p 1778 which stated the following: ‘On the proper application of the test in R v Galbraith [1981] 2 All ER 1060, the prosecution are not required to show that the jury could not reasonably reach any alternative inference contended for. The question is whether it is properly open to the jury to reach the inferences contended for by the prosecution.’ Sheehan J held that this was not a case of a fingerprint on a movable object or a case where the fingerprint was found on a bag in circumstances where one cannot connect with certainty the fingerprint to the material in the bag; the evidence established that the appellant”s fingerprint came into contact with the sealed bag when the cannabis was in it and the Court agreed with the submission of the respondent that there was no need to open the flap to see what was in the bag. Sheehan J held that the presence of the appellant close to the bin was supporting evidence, although in itself not very strong. However, Sheehan J noted that as a valuable commodity was in the bin it was highly unlikely to have been there for any length of time and equally unlikely that it was not being protected.

Sheehan J held that the circumstantial evidence in this case was of such weight that it was open to the jury to accept the inferences contended for by the respondent; the trial judge was therefore correct in allowing the matter to go to the jury. Accordingly, Sheehan J dismissed...

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