Heroin sentencing depends on attitude and amounts

Two men facing similar charges of possession of heroin with intent to supply received very different sentences in the District Court this week (November 17 ), after the amounts involved and their differing efforts at rehabilitation, were made known.

First up was Thomas O’Neill (44 ), now with an address in Parnell Square, Athlone, but who was at 7, Pearse Court, Athlone on two dates in April and August 2009 when gardai found €1,750 in cash and €700 worth of heroin in warranted searches.

On hearing O’Neill had a previous conviction for this, Judge Eamon O’Brien put back a decision for an hour to clarify the sanctions he could impose.

In mitigation, defence solicitor Mr Mark Cooney, told the court how O’Neill had “bought in bulk” for his own habit, that he was now living in Parnell Square with his mother, and that he was trying to get on the methadone programme in Athlone but that there was a 12 month waiting list.

However, when the judge was informed the maximum penalty he could impose for a Section 15 offence (possession with intent to supply ) was a fine of €1,276 and/or 12 months imprisonment, he sentenced O’Neill to nine months in jail, ordered forfeiture of the €1,750 seized, and set bail at €500.

A little later, a former Irish Naval serviceman and crane driver, Mark Gaffey (33 ), with an address in Brawney Square, Athlone was before the court on similar charges.

Judge O’Brien heard how, on April 12, and also under search warrant, gardaí found five bags of heroin worth €125 in his house, and on May 20 found another two bags worth €50 after stopping him on the street.

His solicitor, Mr Padraig Quinn, said there was a question on the Section 15 charge, and though his client “was intending to supply others, but not for profit”.

Mr Quinn told how Gaffey had been a user prior to his acceptance into the Irish Naval Service, where he served for five years, after which he became a crane driver which he did until March this year.

“There was some domestic difficulties. My client lost the family home and suffered a relapse,” said Mr Quinn.

He told the court how his client was already six months on the methadone waiting list, had attended for counselling within a fortnight of the first arrest, and had attended on at least 10 occasions since.

“He’s doing the best he can.” said Mr Quinn.

Judge O’Brien accepted this, and though he sentenced Gaffey to six months in prison, he suspended it for two years, on condition that the defendant signed a €500 good behaviour bond.

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