The life of a criminal law case commences when an allegation is made against a person either by a member of An Garda Siochana or a member of the public. In Ireland a person may be prosecuted by being served with a summons (typically used for more minor offences such as most road traffic offences) or they may be arrested and charged.
Very minor offences may be dealt with on the first day in the District Court (even when contested) while more serious offences, dealt with in the Circuit Court, the Special Criminal Court and Central Criminal Court, may take more than a year to reach a conclusion.
The consequences of a criminal conviction, even in the most minor of cases, may have lifelong consequences. Basic rights such as the right to work and the right to travel, may be adversely affected. In more serious cases, a more fundamental right - the right to liberty, may also be in jeopardy.
Most people will be aware that a prosecution is pending well in advance of being charged or even being questioned by the gardai. It is of the utmost importance that legal advice is sought at the earliest possible opportunity. Consulting a solicitor at the outset will ensure the most favourable outcome for your case. It some instances early advice may prevent a prosecution from commencing at all. Mark O'Sullivan Solicitor.
We represent clients charged with every category of criminal offence. The list on the left hand side of this page sets out a brief guide to some of the offences that we deal with.
These offences are regulated by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 (as amended). The most frequently prosecuted are the offences of possession and possession for the purpose of sale or supply.
Typically these offences are prosecuted following a stop and search on the street or, in more serious cases, when a premises is searched on foot of a search warrant and drugs are found as a result of the search.
A garda has a power of search which may be invoked once they have a reasonable suspicion that an offence is being committed or is about to be committed. A failure to comply with the search is an offence itself.
Once a drug has been seized, the investigating officer, or another member, will forward the drug to the forensic science laboratory for testing. The labarotary will then issue a certificate of analysis which sets out what in fact the drug is and whether, or not, it is a 'controlled' drug (not all drugs of course are unlawful).
If the drug is a banned substance a prosecution will follow either by way of summons or by way of charge.
Depending on the value of the drugs in question the prosecution may be tried in the District Court or, on indictment, in the Circuit Court.
The penalties vary considerably depending on the nature of the drug; the value and the number of previous convictions for the same offence.
It is possible, in the District Court, for a defendant to avoid a conviction for a 'possession offence' if the person has no previous convictions, is pleading guilty and the value and nature of the drug is at the lower end of the scale.
The proofs involved in order to secure a conviction may, in some cases, be technical and there are several defences that may be available to an accused.
It is vital that immediate legal advice is sought if you are charged with any offence under the Misuse of Drugs Act. A conviction may have devastating consequences on your future. Your future career prospects and your ability to travel could be in jeopardy. Many countries, such as the United States, will not issue a visa for persons with a drug conviction.
Theft & Fraud Offences
These statutory offences are set out in the Criminal Justice (Theft & Fraud Offences) Act, 2001. The offences range from simple theft of a single item of very little value to large scale robberies and 'white collar' crimes involving several million euros.
Offences under this Act may be tried in the District Court or the Circuit Court. The Director of Public Prosecutions (the DPP) will initially give 'a direction' as to which Court the case is to be tried in. If she directs the case is to be heard in the Circuit Court, then the case will be 'sent forward' on indictment to the Circuit Court. If the Director directs that the case is fit to be tried in the District Court, the District Court Judge will hear a brief outline of the facts and, if he or she considers the case to be 'minor', they will 'accept jurisdiction' and the matter can be tried in the District Court with the accused's consent. The requirement that the accused gives their consent is almost unique to Theft & Fraud Offences (there are others). The accused has a right to have his case tried in the Circuit Court notwithstanding that the DPP and the District Court Judge consdier the offence suitable for the District Court.
Most accused persons will 'elect' for their case to be tried in the District Court as the advantages are obvious. However it may, in certain circumstances, be more prudent to have your case tried in the Circuit Court. It is clearly an extremely important decision and legal advice from an experienced lawyer is essential.
Sexual offences range from sexual assault which may be dealt with in the Distrcit Court to rape which may only be tried, on indictment, in the Central Criminal Court.
It is probably true that sexual offences, more than any other offence, can ruin a person's reputation even before the prosecution has commenced and even when an accused person is subsequently found to be innocent following a trial. Unfortunately 'innocent in the eyes of the law' is not always 'innocent in the eyes of the public'.
As with all offences, the initial interview at the garda station is of enormous importance and can determine the outcome of the prosecution and subsequent trial. It is essential that you receive experienced legal advice before being questioned at the garda station.
The proofs for all sexual offences are technical with much of the evidence being medical and forensic. Ultimately many such cases come down to the credibility of one witness over another.
If you think you may be charged with an offence of this nature, or that an allegation may be made against you, you should contact your solicitor immediately.
Public Order Offences
Public Order offences are second only to road traffic offences in the number of prosecutions coming before the courts. The Public Order Act, 1994 lists a number of offences most of which may only be dealt with in the District Court.
The most frequently prosecuted are for the offences commonly referred to as 'drunk & disorderly' and 'breach of the peace'. A third offence which is often charged together with these two offences is the offence of failing to comply with a direction of a member of An Garda Siochana.
The penalties for these offences are as follows:
Section 4 ('drunk & Disorderly): a maximum fine of €500
Section 6 ('breach of the peace'): a maximum fine of €1000 and a maximum custodial sentence of 3 months.
Section 8: ('failing to comply'): A maximum fine of €1000 and a maximum custodial sentence of 6 months.
There are several essential proofs in each of these offences which the prosecution must prove to the requisite standard in order to secure a conviction. You should discuss your case with a defence solicitor at the earliest opportunity.
Murder & Manslaughter
The offence of murder is always tried in the Central Criminal Court or the Special Criminal Court. It is a charge that is, in most cases, contested. The sentence following a murder conviction is a mandatory life sentence regardless of whether a plea was proferred by the accused. In manslaughter cases the maximum sentence is also life but it is not mandatory.
In many cases coming before the Central Criminal Court, an accused will be charged with murder, but the charge may be reduced to one of manslaughter, if the accused offers such a plea and this is acceptable to the DPP. A jury may also, at the end of a trial, find that manslaughter has been proved but not murder.
To secure a conviction for murder, the proseuction must prove that the accused killed some person unlawfully and, at the time of the unlawful killing, they intended to kill or cause serious injury to some person. It is of interest that it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove that the accused intended to kill the actual victim but, that he intended to kill some person.
A murder trial is, of course, an extremely stressful time for all concerned. There is currently a delay of, at least, 12 months before a case comes to trial. This delay causes great distress to both the victim's family and to the accused.
As with all criminal offences, but particularly with such a serious charge, immediate legal advice should be sought from a solicitor who has experience in dealing with trials and is familiar with the workings of the Central Criminal Court.
There is always, in these cases, an enormous volume of evidence and a long list of witnesses' testimonies which must be scrutinised in great detail. An accused should have an extremely competent team of lawyers whom he trusts implicitly.
There are three main categories of assault offences provided by statute (the Non Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997). They range in degrees of gravity from assault (section 2 of the Act) to Assault Causing Harm (Section 3) and Causing Serious Injury (section 4). Section 2 Assault may only be dealt with in the District Court. Section 4 may only be tried on indictment in the Circuit Court or Central Criminal Court. Section 3 can be dealt with in either the District Court or, on indictment, in the Circuit Court. The accused has no right of election in this regard and the decision rests with the DPP and the District Court Judge.
There are several potential defences to an assault charge. Perhaps the most frequently argued by an accused is that he was acting in self defence. There is much caselaw on the subject. The defence may only be argued successfully when the amount of force used in self defence was reasonable. What is reasonable will depend on several factors and will vary from case to case depending on the particular circumstances that existed at the time.