Lawyers for Leroy Howard and Stephen Coyle claim the sentencing judge, Judge Martina Baxter, had erred in law in setting a headline sentence of 10 years in their cases – the maximum term for the offence of violent disorder.
Leroy Howard, (29) a father of two of Oriel Hall, Dublin 1, was given a seven and a half years jail term with the final 12 months suspended at Trim Circuit Criminal Court in July 2020 after pleading guilty to violent disorder and assault causing harm during the incident in Ashbourne in the early hours of August 1, 2016.
Coyle (34) of Lower Oriel Street, Dublin 1, was also sentenced to seven and a half years for the same offences but had the final two years suspended.
The Court of Appeal with Mr Justice Séamus Woulfe, presiding; Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy viewed CCTV footage of the incident on Frederick Street, Ashbourne.
Seven people including a woman standing outside a chip shop were assaulted by a gang of four men which included Howard and Coyle.
Three males were knocked to the ground and struck on the head with one victim, Tony Morgan, suffering severe brain injuries in the attack when he was kicked on the ground while unconscious.
Counsel for Coyle, Patrick McGrath SC, said there was no dispute about the facts of a case which he said was “not a pleasant occurrence”.
Mr McGrath accepted that there was no rule in law which prevented a maximum sentence being imposed even where an accused had entered a guilty plea.
However, he maintained that the lack of premeditation, an absence of weapons and short duration of the attack meant the offence did not warrant a maximum headline sentence, while insufficient account appeared to have been taken of Coyle’s lack of previous convictions for similar offences and his efforts to rehabilitate himself.
Mr McGrath stressed that he was making no attempt with the appeal to minimise the severity of the incident and his client’s involvement.
Counsel for Howard, Michael Bowman SC, said the incident was one of gratuitous violence “without excuse or justification” and his client’s behaviour “cannot be condoned in any way, shape or form.”
However, he said Howard was genuinely remorseful.
Mr Bowman said his appeal was based on similar grounds to that of Coyle and he believed the sentencing judge had placed “excessive emphasis” on the deterrence element of her sentence.
Opposing the appeals, counsel for the DPP, Carl Hanahoe BL rejected the suggestion by the appellants that there was a complete absence of premeditation in the case.
Mr Hanahoe said the offences could not be described as “spontaneous” as there was some level of engagement between the assailants and some of their victims earlier in the evening.
The barrister claimed there was evidence to suggest the assailants had “set out to pick a fight” and five minutes was a significant duration given the intensity of the violence used.
Mr Hanahoe said the headline sentence fixed by Judge Baxter was “appropriate” as the offences warranted being placed “in the highest range.”
He also argued that Coyle’s personal circumstances were distinguished from his co-accused in the sentences handed down by Judge Baxter.
Mr Hanahoe said Howard had also been granted a considerable degree of leniency. Counsel said his sentence was effectively four and a half years as it was backdated to his conviction for the offences even though he was already serving a four-year prison sentence for drug offences.
He pointed out that the judge could have imposed the six and a half year sentence to run consecutively from his scheduled release date of November 2021 for the earlier offence .
The Court of Appeal reserved judgement in the two appeals.
An appeal by a third man, Declan Byrne (34) of Spencer Dock, Dublin 1, against both conviction and sentence in relation to the same incident, did not proceed due to his last minute wish to change his legal team.
Byrne was convicted of violent disorder following a trial and sentenced to nine years in prison with the final 12 months suspended.