A teenager found with €3,500 worth of cocaine hidden in his bedroom has been acquitted after a judge held he was acting under duress and had been forced into minding the drugs under a death threat.
The 17-year-old north Dublin boy’s home was searched by gardaí late last year, the Children’s Court heard. The teenager was pleading not guilty to possessing the drugs and possession with intent to supply, Judge Anthony Halpin was told.
The court heard how a drug dealer forced the vulnerable teen, who had been bullied for years and attacked by his own father, to hold drugs or else he would be killed.
Judge Halpin held that this was a case were the boy was an “ideal target” for “drug barons” whom he branded a “cancer in society.”
Defence solicitor Mr Gareth Noble told Judge Halpin that the bulk of the State’s evidence was not disputed. However, he said it was the defence’s case that the boy had been acting under duress at the time.
When questioned by gardaí, the teenager said he had been forced to mind drugs for a man, in his 20's, and feared he would be killed and his home burned down while his family were in it if he refused.
In his Garda interview the teenager, who had no previous convictions, agreed he had been holding the drugs but said “I was in fear for my life.” He said that it was “my first and last time.”
“It was against my freewill. I was told he would burn down my home with my family in it.”
During the case the investigating Garda agreed that no drug trade related paraphernalia such as weighing scales or bags were found during the search of the boy’s bedroom.
The boy was then called to give evidence and told Judge Halpin: “I was a weak target. Someone saw me as an easy target, made me do it. There was nothing I could do about it. He said if I don’t do this he was going to burn down my house. I thought I was in a lot of trouble if I did not do that.”
“I felt I would be killed and put my Ma and all in danger,” he said. He re-iterated to his solicitor that he believed that he and his family were in danger. “If I called the gardaí I would have got myself shot,” he believed.
In cross examination he told a State’s solicitor he could not have reported the threats to gardaí because that would cause trouble for his mother and siblings and himself.
The boy’s mother gave evidence and told the judge that her son was vulnerable. He had been bullied and had no friends until he was in his mid-teens and had also been physically abused by his father who is now under a barring order.
Maintaining a calm and measured tone, the mother told the court her son had tried to tell her about the drugs but was too frightened. He could not confide in his father as he was a man “who beat him up.”
She said the man who made her son mind the drugs was “not alone, this individual comes from a large family.”
“Even if he did not get you some of his family would,” she said.
She told the court she did not tolerate drugs and the “worst thing I do is take the odd cigarette.”
Mr Noble submitted that precedent test cases on the issue of duress applied to the boy’s defence. The teenager was vulnerable and was subject of specific threats. “You have to take into account the human frailty of the accused,” he argued.
Judge Halpin acquitted the boy saying: “Could he have gone to the police? That seems to be the question. I would have to answer in the negative. There has been no evidence in relation to sale or supply.”
The judge said he said he felt he had to look at the circumstances of the case. “Unfortunately in today’s society we have people that are prepared to resort to shooting people and burning down houses. “
He said the amount of drugs involved was sizeable but the boy was under duress and added that “drug barons” can pick on the “weak, vulnerable and impressionable.” In this case the boy had been bullied because he had suffered from obesity for a number of years and as a result was “the ideal target.”
“I only hope gardaí can get this individual because he is the cancer in society,” whom he added targeted people like the defendant.