DPP v Williamson
 IECA 35
THE COURT OF APPEAL
128/2013 - Ryan Birmingham Sheehan - Court of Appeal - 17/11/2014 - 2014 17 4831 2014 IECA 35
MISUSE OF DRUGS ACT 1977 S15(A)
AG v POYNING
DPP v DUFFY & O'TOOLE 2003 5 ICLMD 100
DPP v SHEKALE UNREP CCA 25.2.2008 2008/21/4579 2008 IECCA 28
CRIMINAL JUSTICE ACT 1994 S4
Criminal law - Appeal against severity of sentence - Ten years imprisonment with last two years suspended - Offence under s. 15A of the Misuse of Drugs Act - Plea of guilty - Disparity of sentence - No dispute as to existence of disparity, but to the scale if disparity
Facts On 28 th September 2012 a surveillance operation was carried out by the Gardaí at Mahon Point Shopping Centre. The appellant was seen driving to a destination, he emerged from a house carrying numerous boxes and placed them in the boot of his car. He drove the car to a nearby pub. A short time later a Mr O”Connell emerged from the pub, got into the car and attempted to drive away but was stopped by the authorities. The boxes were examined and a total of 99 kilos of cannabis resin was uncovered with a street value of €594,000. The Gardaí obtained a warrant to search the house the appellant had visited early that evening. More drugs were uncovered in an upstairs bedroom of the house and in the attic with a street value of €781,500, bringing the total value of drugs seized by the Gardaí to €1.375m. The appellant alleged there was too gross a disparity between the sentence imposed on him and that imposed on Mr O”Halloran (owner of the house) which was one of six years suspended. Counsel for the appellant accepted his client was always likely to receive a greater sentence than Mr O”Halloran and stressed it was not about the existence of disparity, but rather about the scale of disparity. Mr O”Halloran cooperated and answered all questions put to him by Gardaí whilst Mr Williamson initially denied any knowledge of the drugs and changed his version of events. It was only when the surveillance evidence was put to him, did he change his position and accept that he was aware that the substance involved was cannabis and that he himself had initially collected the drugs. The Circuit Court judge indicated there was a clear distinction in the role, nature and level of involvement between the two men. The appellant was responsible for arranging storage and distributing the drugs, whilst Mr O”Halloran was to store the drugs for a fee of €1,000. Mr O”Halloran”s approach was one of immediate co-operation and one of providing material assistance whilst denials and untruths were provided the appellant.
Held The sentence imposed fell well within the sentence range available. There was no error of principle.
1. In this case Mr. Williamson appeals against the severity of a sentence that was imposed upon him. The sentence being one of ten years imprisonment with the final two suspended that was imposed on the 29 th May, 2013, in respect of an offence under s. 15A of the Misuse of Drugs Act, to which the appellant pleaded guilty.
2. By way of a very brief summary of the background facts, the position is that on the 28 th September, 2012, a surveillance operation was mounted by gardaí at Mahon Point Shopping Centre. The targeted car was one that was being driven by Michael O'Connell. While the surveillance operation was in progress the appellant, Trevor Williamson, arrived at the shopping centre and was seen in conversation with Mr. O'Connell. Mr. Williamson then got into the driver's seat of the O'Connell car and they both travelled together in that car away from the shopping centre. While under surveillance, they drove to another location which was about two miles away at Wallace's Avenue, at which point the passenger, Mr. O'Connell, got out of the car. Mr. Williamson continued on his way and he drove to a house on Boreenmanna Road. There the appellant was seen to enter the house and after a short period of time to emerge carrying a number of boxes which he placed into the boot of the car. A total of nine boxes were taken and put into the boot and he was assisted in relation to the final box by a Mr. Jerome O'Halloran. We will be referring to that aspect in more detail. Mr. Williamson then drove the car back to the car park of a licensed premises on Boreenmanna Road where he parked the car and went into the bar and then a short time later, Mr. O'Connell emerged and got into the car and as he attempted to drive away was stopped.
3. The car was searched by the gardaí and the nine boxes that had been seen to be put in the boot were examined and found to contain a total of 99 kilos of cannabis resin with a street value of €594, 000. Gardaí entered the public house and arrested Mr. Williamson who was at the bar. Also arrested was the driver of the car Michael O'Connell who subsequently received a ten year prison sentence. It will be noted that it was his second s. 15A conviction, so this sentence was truly mandatory.
4. A search warrant was obtained then for the house of Boreenmanna Road, where the loading operation had been observed, which is the home of Mr. Jerome O'Halloran. When gardaí entered he indicated to them that there was cannabis in a bedroom and a further large quantity in the attic. The total value of the drugs found in the house was €781,500 bringing the total value of drugs seized in the course of the garda operation to €1.375million.
5. The case for the appellant is not so much really that the sentence imposed, ten years with two suspended, was inherently unfair or inherently excessive, but rather that there was too gross a disparity between the sentence that was imposed on him and the sentence that was imposed on Mr. O'Halloran, which was one of six years suspended.
6. However, while the disparity between the sentences is at the core of the appeal, counsel on behalf of the appellant accepts that it was a case that his client was always likely to receive a greater sentence than Mr. O'Halloran. However, the complaint is not about the existence of a disparity, but rather it is about the scale of the disparity.
7. In that regard the following points might be noted. Mr. O'Halloran's immediate reaction when the gardaí called to his house was to accept that there were drugs there and to tell the gardaí that there were drugs located in a bedroom and in the attic. Subsequently in the course of formal interviews at the garda station, he admitted his role in storing the drugs and said that he had been approached to do so by Mr. Williamson and had agreed to do this.
8. Mr. Williamson, for his part when interviewed initially denied any...
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