Tue, 16 Mar, 2021 – 16:42
A former drug addict who assaulted a man at an internet cafe and took his car has had his four-year sentence reduced by the Court of Appeal.
Mr Justice Seamus Woulfe at the three-judge court on Tuesday suspended the final two years after finding that the sentencing judge didn’t give enough credit to Keith O’Donoghue for the steps he had taken at rehabilitation. It was the first judgement delivered by Mr Justice Woulfe since taking up his role on the Court of Appeal following the ‘Golfgate’ controversy last year.
O’Donoghue (32), of Lenihan Avenue, Prospect, Co Limerick pleaded guilty in 2020 to robbery and the unlawful taking of a car on October 21, 2016. At his sentence hearing a garda said that the victim, who had certain medical issues, was at the Station Internet Cafe on Davis Street in Limerick when two men started talking to him aggressively. One of them shouted at him while the other grabbed him by the arms and punched him in the face. One of the attackers took his car keys before they left.
Gardai arrested O’Donoghue six days later and he admitted his role in the robbery.
Addiction recovery program
Before sentencing, the judge at the Circuit Criminal Court heard that since the offence O’Donoghue had become involved in an addiction recovery program, had begun a stable relationship and had moved out of Limerick.
He was working as a volunteer and taking part in education and training programs and had started a health and fitness course. He was being supported by addiction counselling, relapse prevention, anger management and group therapy and had stopped seeing certain people with whom he had been taking drugs.
The judge adjourned sentencing and indicated that it might be “helpful” if he received a positive probation report and if compensation was offered to the victim. When O’Donoghue came before the judge again ten months later he had €1,000 in compensation and a probation report that said he was remorseful, drug-free and was a mentor to other youngsters involved in drug addiction treatment.
It was hoped that he would go to university in September 2020 and the probation officer said the service would be happy to continue to work with him.
Serious and frightening experience for the victim
However, the judge imposed a four-year sentence, saying that it was a “serious and frightening experience for the victim” and while he noted the efforts at rehabilitation, he said an unprovoked attack on a vulnerable person must be met with a custodial sentence.
At the Court of Appeal Mr Justice Woulfe said that the sentence was “an error of principle” and noted that the judge had given a clear indication “that there would be a positive benefit to him if he continued to progress in the right direction and if some compensation were made available to the victim.”
Given the positive probation report and €1,000 compensation, Mr Justice Woulfe said the judge was “wrong in not affording a greater degree of leniency, when it appeared he had held out that prospect.”
Imposing a sentence of four years with the final two suspended, Mr Justice Woulfe said the court would like the probation service to continue to work with O’Donoghue. Mr Justice Woulfe sat with Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham.