DPP v Heffernan

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMr. Justice Edwards
Judgment Date21 December 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] IECA 310
Docket NumberAppeal Number: 165/2013
CourtCourt of Appeal (Ireland)
Date21 December 2015

[2015] IECA 310

THE COURT OF APPEAL

Edwards J.

Appeal Number: 165/2013

Ryan P.

Sheehan J

Edwards J.

The People at the Suit of the Director of Public Prosecutions
Respondent
V
Joseph Heffernan
Appellant

Conviction — Murder — Diminished responsibility — Appellant seeking to appeal against conviction — Whether trial judge misdirected jury with regard to how they should approach the issue of diminished responsibility raised by the defence

Facts: The appellant, Mr Heffernan, was convicted for murder following a nine day trial before the Central Criminal Court. It was common case during the trial that on the 7th June, 2011 in Cappabeg, Barefield, Ennis, he unlawfully caused the death of the deceased, Mr Ryan. The main issue in the case centred around whether the appellant’s mental state was such that he intended to kill or cause serious injury to some person, such that he should be convicted of murder, or whether by reason of suffering from a mental disorder at the time his responsibility for the act was substantially diminished such that he should be found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility, as provided for in s. 6 of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006. The appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal against his conviction on two grounds. The first ground was that the trial judge misdirected the jury in various respects with regard to how they should approach the issue of diminished responsibility raised by the defence, and particularly concerning where the burden of proof lay, and concerning what was the required standard of proof, where a defence of diminished responsibility was being relied upon. The second ground was that the trial judge erred in ruling that certain text messages adduced as part of the prosecution case were admissible in evidence as exceptions to the hearsay rule. The respondent, the DPP, submitted that using the ordinary meaning of the word “establish”, and also the word as defined by Blacks Law Dictionary, s. 6 of the 2006 Act can only mean that an accused person bears the onus, by the introduction of satisfactory evidence, of proving to a jury that he was, at the time of the homicide, suffering from a mental disorder which diminished substantially his responsibility for the act of killing and such evidence would permit a jury to find a person not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility. The respondent also submitted that it was a matter within the discretion of the trial to admit or not to admit the impugned evidence and that the trial judge having exercised his discretion within jurisdiction, his ruling ought to be upheld.

Held by Edwards J that the appellant’s contentions were not well founded, and that the construction of s. 6 of the 2006 Act contended for by the respondent was the correct one. The Court considered that Oireachtas has left unchanged the pre-existing common law rules as to the burden and standard of proof in insanity cases, and that the correct characterisation of the effect of s. 5 of the 2006 Act is that it does not create a wholly new statutory defence of insanity in place of the former common law defence of insanity, but rather that it has merely modified the common law defence; given the linkages between s. 5 and s. 6 it could not be the case that the Oireachtas could have intended that different burdens and standards of proof could apply in the case of the insanity defence, and the partial defence of diminished responsibility. In the Court’s view there was clearly a very strong basis for inference on the evidence that the texts at issue had in fact been sent by the deceased, and that they were not concocted. Accordingly, the Court considered that the trial judge was correct to the extent that he regarded the evidence in question as being capable of being admitted as part of the res gestae. As to the further issue concerning whether the trial judge ought nevertheless to have excluded them on the basis that they were potentially more prejudicial than probative, the Court could find no justification for interfering with the trial judge’s decision to actually admit the evidence; the trial judge was best placed to consider whether in fact the evidence was more prejudicial than probative.

Edwards J held that the appeal against conviction should be dismissed.

Appeal dismissed.

Judgment of the Court delivered on 21st December 2015, by Mr. Justice Edwards
Introduction
1

This is an appeal by the appellant against his conviction for murder following a nine day trial before the Central Criminal Court. It was common case during the trial that on the 7th day of June, 2011 in Cappabeg, Barefield, Ennis he unlawfully caused the death of the deceased, Mr. Eoin Ryan. The main issue in the case centred around whether the appellant's mental state was such that he intended to kill or cause serious injury to some person, such that he should be convicted of murder; or whether by reason of suffering from a mental disorder at the time his responsibility for the act was substantially diminished such that he should be found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility, as provided for in 6 of the Criminal Law (Insanity) Act, 2006.

2

Though the Notice of Appeal lists five grounds of appeal, four of these may be grouped together. Accordingly, the appellant appeals his conviction essentially on two grounds. The first ground, and main ground, is that the trial judge misdirected the jury in various respects with regard to how they should approach the issue of diminished responsibility raised by the defence, and particularly concerning where the burden of proof lay, and concerning what was the required standard of proof, where a defence of diminished responsibility was being relied upon.

3

The second ground is that the trial judge erred in ruling that certain text messages adduced as part of the prosecution case were admissible in evidence as exceptions to the hearsay rule. While this ground was not addressed in oral argument at the appeal hearing, in circumstances where counsel for the appellant indicated he wished to concentrate on the diminished responsibility issues, it was not abandoned. The Court will therefore proceed to deal with the second ground on the basis of the written submissions it has received.

The evidence at trial
4

The evidence adduced at trial has been helpfully and succinctly summarised in the appellant's written submissions, and the Court will, for the most part, adopt that summary in circumstances where no issue is taken with it by the respondent.

5

The facts leading up to the death of the deceased were that on the evening of the 6th June, 2011 and into the early morning of the 7th June, the deceased was drinking with friends in Cruises bar in Ennis. There he met the appellant and they had a brief conversation. Without saying goodbye to his friends the deceased left the bar and then shortly afterwards the appellant left also. A taxi driver described bringing two men to the appellant's house after stopping briefly at a shop on the way. He noted that the deceased's behaviour was somewhat unusual after the journey.

6

At approximately 6am the following morning the Gardaí received a phone call from the appellant stating that he had killed a man, that the devil was in him and that he came on to the appellant and he killed him. Gardaí arrived to find the appellant in a distressed state and he brought them up into his field where he showed them a water barrel containing the remains of the deceased. Upon interview, the appellant accepted that he had killed the deceased but denied intending to kill a person, stating that the devil had taken over the deceased and that it was only after he had beaten the deceased to death that the devil had left him and he had then realised what he had done to the young man. The appellant then asserted that he had spoken to Jesus and that Jesus had told him to ring the Gardaí.

7

The appellant was seen initially by Dr. John O'Mahony, a local consultant psychiatrist, who attended at the Garda station on the same day. He gave evidence that in his view the deceased was delusional, and explained:

‘When his mood state is informed by the disturbances in his thought, that's what that means, yes. And he believed that he had met and killed the devil. That he was also in contact with Saint Simon of Stylites and Jesus Christ and that also he'd been in contact with his father, who'd been asking him to bring him back to the home.’

8

He also gave evidence that the appellant suffered ‘perceptional disturbance’, stating:

‘Perceptional disturbances in perception are termed hallucinosis, so that he had heard the devil. He had received communication in the form of speech, all from Saint Simon of Stylites. He advised me also that Jesus Christ had spoken to him that very morning and Jesus had advised him to call the Gardai and tell them that he had killed the devil. He also said that his late father had spoken to him on several occasions since his death, the father's death, and advised me also that he had seen a demon come under the door of the interview room in the Ennis Garda barracks that very morning.’

9

Under cross examination, Dr O'Mahony described the effect on the appellant as follows:

‘[He] was perplexed, and [he] was at various times anxious and angry, because he believed that he had – or in fact he told me that he believed that he had killed the devil and that he couldn't understand why he was being charged with the killing of a man and felt that he had, in fact, done the world a service by removing the devil. This was his firm belief at the time. I questioned him several times about this. And that is what we call a delusional belief, which is a fixed false belief, out of keeping [with the]...

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3 cases
  • The People (Director of Public Prosecutions) v Heffernan
    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • February 7, 2017
    ...[High Court Bill No CC 84/11] Supreme Court appeal number: 2015 no 000003 [2016] IESC 000 Court of Appeal record number: 2013 no 165 [2015] IECA 310 Central Criminal Court: Bill no ..... THE SUPREME COURT An Chuirt Uachtarach Crime & sentencing – Murder – Defence of diminished responsibilit......
  • Wendy Graham Against Her Majesty's Advocate
    • United Kingdom
    • High Court of Justiciary
    • October 2, 2018
    ...of insanity required evidence from a consultant psychiatrist (s 5(1) and this applied to diminished responsibility too (DPP v Hefferman [2015] IECA 310 at paras 94 and 95). [86] Although unchallenged evidence from a psychologist may be admissible and sufficient to establish an abnormality o......
  • DPP v Ramzan
    • Ireland
    • Court of Appeal (Ireland)
    • May 11, 2016
    ...to modify that defence in a number of respects. See this Court's judgment in The People (Director of Public Prosecutions) v Heffernan [2015] IECA 310. In terms of the specific modifications effected by the sub-clause at issue, to the extent that two interpretations of it may be legitimately......

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