DPP v Ryan
 IECC 1
Record no. WDDP0072/2010
2012/0099CCDP - Sheehan - High - 6/2/2014 - 2014 IECC 1
Sentencing – Drug trafficking – Undue leniency – Applicant seeking review of sentences– Whether trial judge made an error in principle
Facts: The respondent, Mr Ryan, was found in a van outside premises the Gardaí had a search warrant to investigate in 2011. On searching the van, they found 1 kg of cannabis and a small quantity of cocaine. The respondent had the keys of an apartment in the complex in which the Gardaí discovered heroin with a market value of €625,000 and other drugs including cocaine, cannabis resin and MDMA with a total value of €918,000. They found drug dealing paraphernalia including a press, plastic bags to contain the drugs, a mixing area and a cat litter for use in disguising the odours that would be produced in the mixing. The Gardaí also found two guns, ammunition, a balaclava and gloves. He was classed as a store man, a mule and a courier and was at the lowest rung of the ladder. In 2013, the sentencing judge noted that he had no previous convictions and had a significant gambling problem. He found mitigating factors in the accused’s plea of guilty, that he had been of material assistance, that he was not the owner of the contraband and merely its store man and courier. He noted that the respondent was burdened by significant debt. He felt that the accused was trapped into being involved in the affair and was remorseful for what he had done. There were aggravating factors which were the amount of drugs involved, the firearms, and the fact that the respondent was not a drug user; his involvement was considered to be more serious in the sense that he was not driven by addiction to a drug. Limerick Circuit Criminal Court imposed a sentence of five years imprisonment for one offence under s. 15A of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and three charges under s. 27(A)(1) of the Firearms Act, 1964. He held that it would be unjust to apply the minimum of ten years. The DPP applied under s. 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993 for a review of the concurrent sentences, contending that the sentencing judge erred in principle and the sentences were unduly lenient. The DPP claimed that the judge failed to identify an appropriate starting point at a sufficiently high level to reflect the nature of the offences including the accumulation of crimes and the aggravating factors; misdirected himself in law in treating the mandatory sentence of ten years as the maximum sentence or the starting point; and failed to reflect the policy of the legislature and the principle of deterrents. The DPP submitted that the respondent’s role was that of a very active quartermaster for the organisation. The respondent submitted that the DPP has to reach a high standard in order to demonstrate undue leniency and has failed to do so in that a clear error of principle has not been demonstrated; the sentence imposed was in accordance with the relevant mandatory minimum sentence for firearms offences.
Held by the President that, having considered the active role played by the respondent in regard to the drugs, it was difficult to see how the respondent could be regarded as that of merely a courier or mule. In the view of this Court, the trial judge was in error in assessing the role of the respondent as being on the bottom rung of the ladder; he established a distribution centre for drugs by renting the apartment, storing a valuable and large quantity of drugs in it, preparing the drugs for distribution, buying containers to put them in, paying the rent on the apartment, and distributing the drugs. The President accepted that there were legitimate considerations for the departure from the ten year minimum if justice permits, namely the plea of guilty and the material cooperation.
The President held that that the sentencing judge made a serious error in his assessment of the gravity of the case and of the accused’s role in the business of drug trafficking. Hence it was arguable that the minimum sentence of ten years ought not to have been departed from and that a sentence above the minimum specified could have been considered. Nevertheless, the Court would not interfere with the decision of the trial judge in that regard. However, the Court was of the view that the sentences imposed were unduly lenient to a significant degree and proposed to consider appropriate sentences.
This case proceeded before me and jury in Waterford between the 2nd and the 9th of July 2013. The accused was acquitted by the jury on all 3 counts. The accused who was not legally aided now seeks his costs of the hearing.
Prior to the trial, a section 4E application was made before me and there was an aborted trial before Judge McDonagh and a jury. No costs are sought in relation to either hearing.
The court has been referred to a number of decisions of the higher courts dealing with the issue of the granting of costs in criminal cases. It is not in issue that the following principles have been established:
• Costs are at the discretion of the trial judge;
• detailed reasons should be given for how that discretion is exercised;
• the exercise of such discretion in criminal cases does not mirror the position which obtains in civil cases (i.e....
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