Statutory 'double whammy' leads to 17-year sentence for drug dealer

Statutory 'double whammy' leads to 17-year sentence for drug dealer

A statutory “double whammy” lead to a man caught with more than €100,000 worth of cannabis being given a 17-year prison sentence, his lawyers have told the Court of Appeal.

Martin McBride (47), of Gimont Avenue, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, had pleaded guilty at Cork Circuit Criminal Court to possessing €97,000 worth of cannabis for sale or supply in the city in May 2011.

While on bail and after he had signed a guilty plea for the Cork incident, he was caught with €40,000 worth of cannabis for sale or supply in his home in Wexford on November 16, 2011.

Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin at Cork Circuit Criminal Court sentenced him to seven years imprisonment on November 29, 2011.

Judge Barry Hickson at Wexford Circuit Criminal Court imposed a consecutive mandatory minimum term of 10 years imprisonment on October 29, 2013.

Opening an appeal against sentence today, McBride's barrister, Bernard Condon SC, told the Court of Appeal that his client was hit with a statutory “double whammy”.

Mr Condon asked the court to consider whether the Wexford incident was a second offence – which triggers a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment – and whether his client had actually been convicted of the first offence at the time.

Mr Condon submitted that a conviction was not recorded until a sentence was imposed and the mandatory provision only applied where a person had been previously convicted prior to the commission of a second offence.

For example, he said that when one applies to vacate a guilty plea before sentencing, “one is not quashing a conviction” but changing a plea.

Counsel further asked the court to consider whether the provision for consecutive sentencing for offences committed while on bail applied at the same time as the provision for mandatory minimum sentencing.

Aside from the technical arguments, Mr Condon said application of the totality principle to McBride's sentence "must provide some amelioration". He said there weren't many people in the State serving 17 years for drugs offences.

Wexford Circuit Court could not have applied the principle to McBride's sentence because it did not have jurisdiction over Cork Circuit Court, Mr Condon said. 

McBride had no previous convictions prior to the Cork incident, had a good work record, positive testimonials and appeared to have developed a substance abuse issue while in the United States, Mr Condon said.

McBride had a “moving role” in relation to the drugs and according to a Garda he was acting in fear. It appeared the previous seizure in Cork had lead to the Wexford incident, Mr Condon said.

Mr Justice Garrett Sheehan, who sat with Mr Justice Alan Mahon and Mr Justice John Edwards, said the court would reserve judgement.

Ruaidhrí Giblin