26 Sept 2022

No jail for van driver caught with €95,000 worth of cocaine at Covid checkpoint

No jail for van driver caught with €95,000 worth of cocaine at Covid checkpoint

A Cork man caught at a Covid checkpoint transporting €95,000 of cocaine has avoided a jail term after a court heard of his extensive efforts to rehabilitate himself.

Garda Shane Harten told the court Gary Nolan (39) was visibly nervous and sweating when he stopped his van at the Covid checkpoint in Clondalkin last May. He asked Nolan about a package in the passenger footwell of the van and Nolan told him it contained cocaine.

Nolan told gardai he had amassed a drug debt and had been asked to transport the drugs back to Cork to reduce the money owed. He said he had been threatened many times.

The court heard Nolan has since been attending regularly with a counseller and has been giving clean urines. The counseller said she had never had a client as motivated or interested in recovery.

Nolan, with an address at Drishane More, Killeagh, Cork pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to possession of the cocaine at Outer Ring Road, Clondalkin on May 18, 2020. He has no previous convictions.

Judge Martin Nolan said the mitigation in the case was obvious and included his early guilty plea, admissions as to his involvement, lack of a previous record and the fact he was unlikely to reoffend.

He noted Nolan was in the throes of a very expensive cocaine addiction at the time and in debt.

He took into account his good work history and support within his family and community.

He said there were grounds to depart from the presumptive mandatory minimum sentence of ten years imprisonment and that he found there to be “exceptional” factors in this case including the evidence of Nolan's counsellor as to his progress and the testimonials handed into court.

Judge Nolan imposed a five year sentence which he suspended in full.

Garda Shane Harten agreed with Michael Bowman SC, defending, that Nolan was in significant distress, shaking and sweating uncontrollably. He said Nolan could not have been more co-operative at the scene. He agreed Nolan told them he had been threatened a number of times and was in fear.

Gda Harten agreed Nolan told them he had sought to get control over his addiction earlier in 2020 but during lockdown, his position deteriorated. He agreed with Mr Bowman that Nolan would have no control over how much money he owed and it could go up and down.

He agreed that Nolan's family had sought help for him and an appointment to see a counsellor had been arranged before his arrest. He has since attended counselling on a regular basis.

Mr Bowman handed in a number of testimonials which he said outlined his client to be a decent man with support within his family and community. He said the letter writers were all aware of the charges but believed it to be out of character for Nolan.

Mr Bowman submitted this was a most unusual case which “ticked all the statutory boxes” in terms of special and exceptional circumstances.

He said Nolan was a young man who had fallen into debt and offended due to fear of reprisals, but has since acted in a brave and moral way.

Mr Bowman said in this case rehabilitation was not aspirational but has firmly taken hold. He said Nolan was a grown man who made certain choices but has since sought to make recompense with good choices.

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