NewsCourts

Man who “blamed” late girlfriend for fatal crash has sentence reduced on appeal

Teresa Kiely
Teresa Kiely

A man criticised for seeking to attribute “blame” on his girlfriend for a crash which killed her and another woman has had his seven year prison sentence cut on appeal.

James O'Donovan (30), of Athy, Co Kildare, had pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing the deaths of Rosanna Potts (22), his girlfriend and passenger, as well as Teresa Kiely (49), who was travelling with her daughter in another car, at Youngstown, Athy, on December 27, 2012.

O'Donovan was found guilty by a jury at Naas Circuit Criminal Court and was sentenced to seven years imprisonment by Judge Leonie Reynolds on March 2, 2015.

O'Donovan successfully appealed his sentence today with the Court of Appeal deeming it “unduly severe” and finding that the Circuit Court erred in treating his defence as an aggravating factor.

The Court of Appeal heard that both vehicles were in perfect mechanical order and there was no evidence as to O'Donovan's manner of driving.

Giving judgment today, Mr Justice George Birmingham said O'Donovan had been driving a Mitsubishi Pajero which went onto the wrong side of the road and crashed into an oncoming Toyota Prius causing the death of the driver, Ms Kiely, and injuries to her daughter.

In his first exchange with gardai at the scene, O'Donovan said that he and his girlfriend were arguing at the time of the collision and that she hit him a couple of times, that she pulled his hood and the next thing he remembered was regaining consciousness.

A significant feature of the trial was evidence from two experts - a Garda forensic road collision investigator and a consultant forensic engineer. Their conclusions diverged.

This disagreement contributed to a difference in opinion as to where control of the Pajero was lost.

The Circuit Court judge listed the aggravating factors including “the fact that the nature of the defence was such that the accused sought to attribute sole blame for the accident on the deceased, Ms Potts, which this court finds utterly reprehensible”.

Counsel for O'Donovan, Damien Colgan SC, submitted that there was an inappropriate emphasis placed on the nature of his defence and that the sentence was out of line with sentences in comparable cases.

The Court of Appeal could not agree that O'Donovan's defence, which involved putting blame on Ms Potts, was an aggravating factor and one to be regarded as reprehensible.

Mr Justice Birmingham said it was noteworthy that in the first exchange O'Donovan had with a Garda at the scene, he referred to the fact that prior to the accident, he and his girlfriend were quarrelling.

He had to be free to raise that circumstance as part of his defence, the judge said and it was an “error in principle” to regard it as an aggravating factor.

Mr Justice Birmingham said O'Donovan's junior counsel, Libby Charlton BL, had “helpfully” assembled comparator cases and “certainly by reference to the cases assembled” it appeared that seven years was a “particularly and indeed unusually severe one”.

Prosecuting counsel also accepted it was unusually severe compared to those listed in response to a question from the court.

He said the judge erred in imposing a seven year sentence as that was “unduly severe”.

Mr Justice Birmingham said O'Donovan was a carpenter, the father of a seven-year-old girl from a previous relationship whom he supports and was the main carer for his mother.

He had nine previous convictions including one for dangerous driving that occurred some two months before this accident. He had driven through a stop sign at a junction which lead to the hospitalisation of the other driver who “fortunately made a good recovery”, the judge said.

Resentencing O'Donovan, Mr Justice Birmingham said this was a “very serious offence involving two fatalities which have left two families devastated”.

There was a highly relevant previous convictions among others and as such “unlike in some dangerous driving cases” O'Donovan could not say he was a person of previous impeccable character.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan and Mr Justice Alan Mahon, imposed a five year sentence with the final year suspended in order to incentivise rehabilitation.

His 30 year driving disqualification was reduced to 12 years because the original term might actually serve to make rehabilitation more difficult and prevent him from reintegrating into employment the court found.

O'Donovan was required to enter into a good behaviour bond and he undertook to be so bound.