A Cork man who claimed he was out scouting fields for rabbit hunting when he was caught with almost 10kg of cannabis after a garda sting operation has failed in a bid to overturn his conviction.
Karl Humphries (40), last of Curraheen Drive, Bishopstown, was convicted of three counts of possession of cannabis worth around €58,000 for sale or supply by a Cork Circuit Criminal Court jury in July 2021.
Humphries had told gardaí he was hunting rabbits, which included “dazzling” or “lamping” rabbits in the vicinity of Watergrasshill, Co Cork, on the night of July 25th, 2012 – nine years before his trial – when gardaí set up surveillance around a large bag of cannabis found earlier in the day.
The bag was found to contain 9.74kg of cannabis resin and gardaí had concealed themselves by a nearby hedge. A car later pulled up and Humphries got out and began to search for the bag, which he located.
Detective Garda Michael O’Halloran said gardaí discovered and returned the black bag of drugs to the concealed position under an old tyre, keeping it under surveillance until Humphries arrived.
“I had him [Humphries] by the arm. He had a black bag in his possession. He dropped it at his feet. I called for assistance on the radio. He froze. He was in shock, shaking,” the detective said.
Humphries denied being involved in the drugs trade at any level and had pleaded not guilty to the three charges, maintaining he never touched the bag.
Humphries gave evidence that he saw Det Gda O’Halloran lying in the ditch before the detective ever approached him and had said ‘hello’ to him before the detective pounced on the accused.
Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin asked: “Where was Fido?”, referencing the accused’s dog, to which Humphries said he would first scout the field before going home to bring out his dogs.
Humphries was convicted by a 10-2 majority verdict and the jury in the case was told the delay in prosecution was due to the accused moving to Australia for work.
After the jury found Humphries guilty Judge Ó Donnabháin told his barrister: “Your fella is facing 10 years. You can be blinding the jury with Fido, but I don’t know where the defendant was going… It is really throwing pepper in my eyes. Someone would want to pull themselves together.”
The judge sentenced Humphries to 10 years’ imprisonment with the final two years suspended.
In dismissing Humphries’ appeal on Monday at the three-judge court, Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly outlined the appellant’s grounds of appeal.
Ms Justice Donnelly said there were three grounds undertaken by Humphries arising from the trial judge’s refusal to recharge the jury on the basis of requisitions made by his counsel.
“The first was to the effect that the trial judge inadequately explained the concept of drawing inferences from evidence,” Ms Justice Donnelly said.
“The second was that the trial judge incorrectly charged the jury as to the standard of proof in criminal trials and the final requisition was that the judge failed to adequately explain the ingredients of the offences, namely the element of possession with intent to sell or supply,” the judge said.
Regarding the burden of proof argument, Ms Justice Donnelly said the trial judge had not erred in telling the jury that the stand of proof “was a step above probabilities and a step below absolute certainty”.
She said the judge’s remarks were preceded by and succeeded by “several clear explanations of the concept of proof beyond a reasonable doubt” which was described as a “high” standard and was compared with the lower civil standard at the trial.
Ms Justice Donnelly said the three-judge court could not find “anything wrong” with how the judge dealt with inferences in the case. It had been claimed by Humphries’ lawyers that the judge did not go into sufficient detail when explaining inferences beyond a theoretical level.
Ms Justice Donnelly said the judge had directed the jury sufficiently, and they were entitled to draw inferences and gave “common sense instructions on the difference between inference and speculation”.
Humphries’ lawyers argued the jury should also have been given “an express charge in relation to the required elements of sale or supply” as opposed to simple possession.
Ms Justice Donnelly said the appellant’s concerns in this matter “bear no relation to the running of the trial and the central issue that the jury had to decide; whether the appellant was in possession of the drugs”.
“Any issue about this being a case of ‘simple possession’ for personal use was simply fanciful in the circumstances present here,” she said.
“There was simply nothing in the case that could have satisfied a jury to the contrary that possession was only for the immediate personal use of the appellant,” Ms Justice Donnelly said.
The judge said the court was satisfied that all three grounds relied on by the appellant were to be rejected and then dismissed the appeal.