Sentence for possession of syringe not unduly lenient

The Court of Appeal has found that twelve months imprisonment backdated to the date of guilty plea was not an unduly lenient sentence for the offence of possession of a syringe contrary to s. 7(1) and (2) of the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.

The Court accepted that there were unusual circumstances relating to the offence.

The offence occurred on 10 September 2014, and involved Garda John O’Donovan noticing Donna Hutch falling over in the road in Amiens Street Dublin.

On seeing her again at Custom house, Garda O’Donovan approached Ms Hutch and asked her to stop.

Although he identified himself, he was in plain clothes, and Ms Hutch struck out at him with the syringe.

A member of the public intervened in order to come to the assistance of Garda O’Donovan.

This member of the public went to a car and got gloves. Garda O’Donovan asked this member of the public to contact Store Street garda station and this he did.

Eventually Ms Hutch opened her hand, dropped the syringe and at that stage it became clear to the Garda that there was no barrel attached to it. At this stage Ms Hutch reached into her trousers, took something out and swallowed it and it emerged that this was the barrel.

Soon after, assistance arrived and Ms Hutch was taken to Store Street garda station. Ms Hutch spoke voluntarily and expressed remorse for what she had done.

The Court of Appeal noted that the almost invariable result if a syringe is produced to a member of the Garda Síochána in a threatening or aggressive fashion is that the person doing this can expect to serve time in custody.

The Court also noted that Ms Hutch had 313 previous convictions, predominantly linked to her drug habit, and with one relating to producing a syringe.

Thus, the Court observed that the sentence could appear extremely lenient.

However, it then noted that Ms Hutch had a good relationship with Garda O’Donovan, that she had known him for 20 years but had failed to identify him as she was hallucinating, and that on the day in question she had ingested crystal methamphetamine.

This was not a case where Ms. Hutch went out with any intention of producing a syringe, whether to rob or for any other criminal purpose. She did not go out with any intention to harm anyone. It seems that the implement was produced to someone who was long known to her and in respect of whom she had no hostile feelings whatever, and that this happened at a time when she was hallucinating.

The evidence was that she had an established practice of informing any garda who had occasion to stop her as to whether she was in possession of a syringe or not, lest the garda be endangered.

When imposing sentence the judge adverted to the fact that, at the time of sentence, she was in the Dóchas Centre, and that she appeared to be doing well there and making progress, and also that her methadone dosage had been reduced. Indeed these factors had caused counsel on her behalf to urge the judge to refrain from increasing the period that she was facing in custody.

The DPP argued that the judge failed to place the offence on the spectrum of seriousness, and that the issue of general deterrence was not addressed.

However, the Court of Appeal found that the sentencing judge had sought to craft an appropriate sentence with care, and that while it may be considered lenient, it was not made with any error in principle.

  • by Rachel Killean for Irish Legal News