Court of Appeal, Dublin
Two men said to have “played an integral part in the distribution of cannabis throughout Ireland” have had their original prison sentences more than doubled by the Court of Appeal, following an appeal by prosecutors.
Polish nationals Tomasz Witkowski (41) and Mariusz Sowa (39) had only recently come to Ireland when they were arrested for possessing €1.3 million worth of cannabis for sale or supply at a house on the Tullow Road, Co Carlow on March 30, 2018.
They pleaded guilty and were each jailed for two-and-a-half years by Judge James McCourt on April 1, 2019.
However, the Director of Public Prosecutions successfully sought a review of their sentences on grounds they were “unduly lenient” and the Court of Appeal resentenced them to six years imprisonment on Thursday.
President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said Gardaí had obtained a search warrant for a residential property in Co Carlow, close to the main motorway network and protected by security gates.
In the lead up to the raid, Mr Sowa was observed collecting an individual from Dublin Airport who was believed to be a senior figure in Polish organised crime.
Gardaí viewed this individual as being central to the operation but he was not present at the time of the raid on March 30.
Mr Justice Birmingham said Gardaí discovered 65kgs of cannabis worth €1.3 million, in 77 packets, and a sum of €21,000 cash was found close to the drugs.
Gardaí found large tractor tyres which had been used to smuggle the drugs into the country. The cannabis was removed and placed into hold-all bags for distribution throughout Ireland, the judge said.
Counsel for the DPP, Dylan Redmond BL, said neither man was a mere courier and there was no suggestion that either man was under some form of duress.
There were not at the “top of the food chain” but were not on the lowest level either, he submitted.
Mr Redmond said both men “played an integral part in the distribution of cannabis throughout Ireland.”
He stressed that the sentences failed to have regard for the requirement for general deterrence. If Ireland was to be an avenue for the large-scale importation of drugs, then the requirement for deterrence in this case was “very significant indeed”, Mr Redmond submitted.
Counsel for Witkowski, James Dwyer SC, said his client was a foot soldier and there was no evidence the men were to take any share of the money.
Counsel for Sowa, Micheál P O’Higgins SC, said the Gardaí accepted that his client was a delivery man, similar to a pizza delivery man. “He delivers the pizza ... he doesn’t touch the pizza, or know how many pizzas are delivered overall,” counsel submitted.
Mr Justice Birmingham said Witkowski was the father of three children and had worked previously in Italy and Germany, where he said he accrued a gambling debt of €20,000. He said he became involved in this enterprise to clear that debt.
Neither men had previous convictions in either Ireland or Poland. Neither man had been in Ireland for a long period of time before their arrest, Sowa as little as two weeks.
In the Court of Appeal’s view, the sentencing judge erred in his selection of a seven year headline sentence.
Mr Justice Birmingham said the headline sentence could “never have been” lower than the 10-year presumptive mandatory minimum sentence for possession of drugs worth more than €13,000.
“We say that conscious of the fact that neither man was the mastermind, but both significantly committed to this exercise”.
In light of a recent Court of Appeal decision on sentencing for drugs offences, Mr Justice Birmingham said the average time to be served for offences of this seriousness was six years and nine months, or 81 months.
He said the men’s early guilty pleas, the absence of any previous convictions and the fact they were going to be required to serve their sentences apart from their family, friends and support structures were “significant” mitigating factors.
If full and generous credit was given for the all the mitigating factors, Mr Justice Birmingham said the final sentences could not have been less than seven years.
In recognition of the fact the men were having their sentences increased, when they had been working towards a release date in February of this year, the court imposed a somewhat lesser sentence than it would have imposed at first instance.
Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, resentenced the men to six years imprisonment.