Proceeds of crime can’t be used to assess legal aid, judge rules

Proceeds of crime can’t be used to assess legal aid, judge rules

A judge has ruled that an accused's alleged income from criminal activity cannot be taken into consideration when assessing him for legal aid.

Judge Melanie Greally made the ruling in the case of a man facing trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court for drug dealing and firearm offences. The accused had applied for legal aid but gardaí believe he has income from crime.

The judge said that she shared gardaí suspicions about his assets but was granting legal aid because only income from legal sources could be taken into account when assessing someone's ability to pay for their lawyers.

Garda Janice Gray told the court that during a number of searches of the man's home gardaí seized €24,000 in cash. The gardaí also seized five vehicles with a total estimate market value of €60,000.

The Dublin man, who cannot be identified, is charged with possession of cannabis for sale or supply at his home in March last year (2015). He is also alleged to be in unlawful possession of a stun-gun and live ammunition at the same time. He will go on trial next year (2017).

Derek Cooney BL, prosecuting, said the State was contesting a defence application for legal aid on the basis that they said his statement of means was incorrect. Gda Gray told Mr Cooney that the accused had income and a range of vehicles at his disposal.

She agreed with John Fitzgerald BL, defending, that the money seized was suspected to have come from illegitimate sources.

Granting legal aid Judge Melanie Greally said she shared the suspicions raised as to the source of the cash. She said if those suspicions were proven the State had the means to confiscate the money and assets.

She said that in assessing the man's capacity to fund his own defence the court could only look to the man's legal assets, acquired in a legal manner. The man receives disability benefit and rent supplement payments.

“The accused does not appear to have a significant income, nor appears to have any assets acquired in a lawful manner,” she said.

Garda Gray told Mr Cooney that gardaí obtained a search warrant for the accused's home on the basis of a belief that he was “heavily involved in the sale or supply of cannabis”.

During the forced entry raid gardaí found €7,000 in cash hidden in the accused's underwear. Two cars registered to him were at the property, including a 2011 VW Golf valued by gardaí at €17,000. The other car was valued at €4,000.

During another search later that year gardaí seized two vehicles in the driveway of the home, valued by gardaí at €11,500 and €13,000 each. Gda Gray said these were not registered to the accused but his solicitor had since written to gardaí to state that he was claiming them as his property.

Last March gardaí raided the man's home again and seized €7,828 cash in €50 notes. The cash was hidden around the house, including behind three photo frames.

A month after this raid the man was stopped by gardaí while driving a 2010 VW Golf valued at €12,000. Gda Gray said the accused told gardaí the car was his.

His counsel Mr Fitzgerald said the car was his friend's car and not his. He said that his client brought the first car with the proceeds of disability payment arrears.

Gda Gray said the man's partner had previously received a pay out of nearly €30,000 from a claim. She said the couple had a seven seater Jeep which was purchased with that money.