By Tom Tuite
A solicitor caught with cocaine in his wallet during a professional visit to Mountjoy Prison has been granted a strike-out after he donated €1,250 to a drug addiction treatment centre.
Dublin based lawyer, Aonghus McCarthy, 32, who insisted someone else put the drugs in his wallet at a party, had been told last month he would be spared a criminal conviction for the offence if he gave the money to the Merchant Quay drug project.
Judge Gerry Jones had said at Dublin District Court that Mr McCarthy was in a “noble profession” but was being treated the same as any other defendant and, “he will get one chance and one chance only.”
Cocaine worth €26 and weighing 0.33 grammes was found when his wallet was searched, the court heard.
The case resumed today when Judge Grainne O’Neill, now presiding, noted from defence solicitor Miska Hanahoe that there was a receipt to confirm he had made the donation. She affirmed the order made by her colleague and struck out the case.
The solicitor had been excused from attending the hearing but was at the courthouse to represent his clients in other cases.
He had originally been charged in November under Section 15c of the Misuse of Drugs Act for conveying a controlled drug into Mountjoy Prison or to a person in the prison, on Feb. 8, 2017, a charge he denied.
But in January an additional but less serious charge for unlawful possession of the drug was brought in the case.
On February 5 when the case resumed Judge Jones noted the State was not proceeding with the more serious allegation for conveying the drug into the prison which can carry a possible 12-month sentence.
A guilty plea was then entered to the less serious charge for possession.
Garda Sergeant Zita Woods agreed with prosecution counsel Lorcan Staines that at 6.30pm on February 8, 2017, Mr McCarthy came to the prison for a professional visit.
He placed some items including his belt and wallet in a tray which was sent through an X-ray scanner machine as standard.
A prison officer became concerned when she saw a black patch in the wallet and the X-ray machine was stopped. A plastic packet which contained a white substance was recovered.
The solicitor was interviewed by Garda Finbarr Brennan and denied owning the cocaine. He made a voluntary statement without legal representation present and when asked about the substance said, “no, it was not his”.
He accepted it was found in his wallet but had no idea how it got there, Gda Sergeant Woods said. He also told the garda who interviewed him that he was “trying to retrace his steps over the last few days”.
During the interview he said that “I absolutely 100% did not put it in my wallet”. He also told the investigating Garda “someone else must have put it in there”.
He indicated that it was possibly someone he had gone to a party with, the court was told.
“I do not do drugs and I would not risk the entirety of my career. I don’t know who did do it and will ask around,” he told the Garda during the interview.
He also told the garda he had no history of drug use and his family could vouch for that and he also said he was into fitness and did not take drugs. He had one prior conviction in 2012 when he was fined by Midleton District Court for driving without insurance.
The defence pointed out that the solicitor had been on a professional visit to Mountjoy Prison and had been well aware he would be searched.
Mr McCarthy’s practice is based at Conyngham Road, Dublin 8. The solicitor, from Co. Cork, but who has an address at Wellington House, Clancy Quay, Dublin 8 did not have to give evidence during the hearing.
The defence said he placed himself at the mercy of the court. Mr McCarthy’s solicitor had pleaded with the court to note it was a very small amount of drugs, he suffered greatly and had a good future.
Judge Jones had said he was glad the charge for conveying the cocaine into the prison had been withdrawn by the prosecution and that, “I could not see it going too far”. He had said he was treating McCarthy the same as any other defendant and he always gave a defendant “a chance to conserve their good name and record”.
He accepted the solicitor probably did not know the cocaine was in his wallet. He had ordered that the case could be struck if he donated €1,250 to the Merchant Quay drug project. “He will get one chance and one chance only,” the judge had added.
Otherwise, a conviction would be recorded and he would be fined instead, he had warned.