Judges let ‘minnow’ drug couriers off the hook as big fish escape the net

Mike Dwane

Reporter:

Mike Dwane

ONLY one of almost 40 Limerick drug dealers and couriers convicted of having commercial quantities of narcotics for sale or supply has received the “minimum” 10-year sentence since the law was amended in 2007, figures have revealed.

ONLY one of almost 40 Limerick drug dealers and couriers convicted of having commercial quantities of narcotics for sale or supply has received the “minimum” 10-year sentence since the law was amended in 2007, figures have revealed.

That change required that those caught with drugs with a street value of over €13,000 – an indictable offence – serve 10 years behind bars. But the average jail term imposed in Limerick between 2007 and 2011 was just four years.

The figures were released to the Irish Independent following a Freedom of Information request and a regional breakdown was published this week on the website thestory.ie.

They show that of 39 people convicted in Limerick courts since 2007, only one has been sentenced to 10 years.

But solicitor Ted McCarthy said behind that raw data were numerous stories of addicts and “minnows” being exploited by the very people the 10-year terms were meant to target.

“The reason it was brought in was to deal with the serious criminals, the drug lords and the top-of-the-chain suppliers. Unfortunately, in that net are being caught the minnows, which are the little people, the drug addicts who are under obligation to the suppliers by way of debt or otherwise and they are being forced to either hold drugs on behalf of these people or carry them as couriers from A to B,” Mr McCarthy said.

“It’s clear to all when they are brought before the courts that that is the situation. These are not people who are making money out of drugs. Most of these people are indigent, living from hand from mouth, taking drugs almost in preference to food – and they are being preyed upon.”

Judges had every right to take such backgrounds into consideration when imposing sentence, just as they had discretion when an accused person enters an early plea or co-operates with gardai.

“They often can co-operate to a certain point but, beyond that, if they do co-operate by naming names, they put themselves, their families and others in peril. It is no coincidence that certain of the more serious criminals in this country are now dealt with by way of the Special Criminal Court rather than the ordinary courts for fear of jury intimidation. And if somebody in a jury is at risk of being intimidated, what chance your small drug addict who lives on a street corner?” said Mr McCarthy.

A full version of this story was published in the Limerick Leader, print edition, dated April 14, 2012.