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Court of Criminal Appeal says eight year sentence for firearms offence was 'excessive'

Kieran Ryan was caught with a firearm but said that he did not intend to use it and was picking it up for a third party.

Image: Photocall Ireland

THE COURT OF Crimnal Appeal has said that it is the court’s view that a sentence of eight years given to Kieran Ryan in relation to firearms offences was “excessive” and that he should be allowed to appeal.

Ryan pleaded guilty to two firearms offences arising from events which occurred on the 26 May concerning the possession of a Browning semi-automatic pistol.

Limerick

The evidence was that Ryan was one of four occupants in a car which left the suburbs of Limerick heading in the direction of Ballyneety when the car turned onto a side road and stopped at the entrance to a field.

The gardaí were carrying out surveillance in the area. At various stages, two of the occupants of the car got out of the car and searched undergrowth in a field.

Eventually, Ryan got out of the vehicle and pointed to a spot inside the fence into the field. As a result, a package was picked up and wrapped in a cloth bag which was returned to the car.

The car, which was owned by Ryan, then began to drive back towards Limerick City at which point it was stopped by Gardaí attached to the Special Detective Unit and the Regional Support Unit. The firearm and ammunition which were the subject of the charges were found in the cloth bag.

Admitted

Ryan admitted his involvement and when interviewed, he admitted that he believed there was a gun in the package which he went to collect.

Ryan stated that he did not intend to use the firearm. He stated that he was simply asked to collect a weapon and pass it on to a third party, whom he declined to name as he said he was in fear.

When questioned he said:

“I’m holding my hands up 100%. It’s all down to me.”

He went on to state that he was collecting the package as a favour for someone and that he was to receive €500 for collecting this package.

The sentencing judge was, however, careful in the way he approached this issue. He

stated the following:

Now, the two accused were caught red-handed, so to speak. That’s the case for the prosecution, and there seems to be a basis to make that argument.

Now, there is a challenge to the admissibility of the evidence as to why they had the gun and the ammunition and maybe that objection is well based. But what can be — and that the evidence maybe should be given, evidence other than hearsay, but what can be asserted was that they were in possession of a gun, that they — that Kieran Ryan has a previous conviction for an offence of violent disorder which was connected with the — what’s called, if I may call it, the main feud in the city.

It cannot be said that this possession of this gun was connected with that feud but it can be said that he has a previous conviction for an offence related to the same feud. I think that’s the safest way of approaching this.

Out of line

Counsel for Ryan suggested that, in the light of various decisions of this Court, a starting point of 12 years, before applying an appropriate deduction for such mitigating factors as may have been present, was sufficiently out of line with what might be described as the going rate as to render it an error in principle.

It was argued on behalf of Ryan that an indicative sentence of 12 years, before any mitigating factors were taken into account, wrongly places this offence in the middle of the most serious end of the range.

It was suggested that in the light of the sort of facts analysed in some of the cases to which reference has been made, a case of possession of an admittedly significant firearm, but in circumstances where it was not used and where there was no evidence other than that the purpose of the possession by Ryan was to deliver the firearm to a third, although unnamed party, could not warrant such a finding.

Error in principle

The Court of Appeal said they held the view the disparity identified in Ryan case is sufficiently significant to justify finding that the initial assessment of the trial judge, as to the seriousness of this offence and the sentence which it ought carry in the absence of mitigating factors, amounts to an error in principle”.

The court said the alleged error concerns the length of the sentence and it being suggested that same is out of line with the norm.

The Court established an error of principle, albeit one which is partly compensated for by an opposing error in the extent of the reduction allowed for mitigating circumstances,stating that the Court feels that it should allow the appeal and interfere with the sentence.

They court found that while a relatively small reduction from a sentence of 8 years would not, ordinarily, be justified in the light of the fact that the court would not normally regard such a disparity as being of a sufficient degree to justify a finding of error of principle, the court said it is of the view that it is appropriate to make such an adjustment in the “unusual circumstances” present in the Ryan case.

However, the court said that in the light of the seriousness of the offence to which Ryan pleaded guilty to and all the other circumstances of the case they must make clear that it will not be possible to justify a significant reduction in sentence.

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