Court of Appeal: Man who stole €300 from 81-year-old woman in targeted robbery loses appeal against sentence
A 24-year-old man who followed an 81-year-old woman from a shop and stole her purse has lost an appeal against his sentence of three years with the final 18 months suspended.
Finding that the sentencing judge had not erred in attaching weight to the fact that the offence was against an elderly and vulnerable victim, Mr Justice John Edwards said this was “a factor which necessitated the prioritisation amongst the objectives of sentencing of deterrence”.
The victim, an 81 year old woman, was leaving Eurospar in Bayside, Dublin and was on the way to her home, when Mr Vasile Marin came up behind her, restrained her, and stole her purse from her shopping trolley. The woman estimated that she had around €300 in her purse.
After examining CCTV footage, the Gardaí were able to identify Mr Marin and arrested him pursuant to a Section 48 warrant. Mr Marin was very forthcoming in his interview with Gardaí, identifying himself on CCTV and stating that he saw the woman in the shop, that he followed her and took her wallet.
He said “I didn’t hit her or use bad language, I just took the purse”. He said that he owed a gambling debt and that there was €190 in the purse, that he was sorry for what he did, that he was “a bit drunk”, and that he “wasn’t really aware” of what he was doing. He said it was the first time he did it, and that he wouldn’t do it again.
Impact on the victim
The Court heard that the incident had a lasting effect on the injured party. That it still pains her to discuss it, that the fact the incident occurred so closed to her home caused her much anxiety. She became reclusive as a result, and could not leave the house for over six months following the robbery.
As a result of being extremely nervous and anxious following the incident, she has since relinquished her financial tasks to her son and no longer goes grocery shopping.
In February 2019, Mr Marin was sentenced to three years imprisonment with the final 18 months suspended with conditions.
The sentencing judge said the clear aggravating factors were: that the victim was a vulnerable 81-year-old woman; that she was specifically targeted and followed by Mr Marin for the purpose of carrying out a robbery; and that the incident had a significant effect on the woman. The sentencing judge said that since there was minimal force, he placed the offence “on the higher end of the low range for a robbery offence”.
The sentencing judge gave Mr Marin credit for his guilty plea expression of remorse for his actions, and took into account the gambling debt, the lack of force, testimonials on his behalf, his diagnosis of depression, and the recommendations of the probation report.
The sentencing judge said “Generally speaking, somebody with as limited a record as Mr Marin has would not expect to receive a custodial sentence for an offence of this nature. However, elderly people have to be protected from being targeted by opportunistic persons, regardless of whether they have debts or financial pressures”.
Court of Appeal
Mr Marin complained that the sentence was excessive, that the judge erred in:
- Attaching disproportionate weight to the age of the victim;
- Failing to attach sufficient weight to the mitigating circumstances;
- Failing to consider the particular hardship of a custodial sentence on Mr Marin given his limited English, his being a non-national, hearing difficulties and depression;
- Failing to give sufficient credit for his good character;
- Placing the offence too high on the scale given the low level of force;
- Failing to attach sufficient weight to the guilty plea and expressions of remorse;
- Failing to attach sufficient weight to the probation report and recommendations;
- Failing to consider imposing a fully suspended sentence.
Delivering the judgment of the Court, Mr Justice John Edwards said the court rejected “without hesitation the suggestion that the sentencing judge over assessed the gravity of this case”. He said that robbery carries a range of penalties from non-custodial to life-imprisonment “for the most egregious cases”. He said the case was clearly placed within the low range, and that the sentencing judge rightly identified the aggravating factors – including the particular aggravating factor of targeting a vulnerable victim.
Mr Justice Edwards said that the way in which the elderly and vulnerable victim was targeted in the case was “a factor which necessitated the prioritisation amongst the objectives of sentencing of deterrence, both general and specific”. While a judge cannot impose an exemplary sentence fixed at a disproportionate level, Mr Justice Edwards was satisfied that the headline sentence of three years as the starting point was completely appropriate to the gravity of the offending conduct.
Mr Justice Edwards also considered that the sentencing judge did not place undue weight on the age and vulnerability of the victim, and that she would have been in error if she failed to allude to them as she did.
Satisfied that there was no error in principle in the sentencing judge’s approach to the case, Mr Justice Edwards dismissed the appeal.
- by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News
© Irish Legal News Ltd 2020