When someone is arrested for supplying drugs, it is not uncommon for drug money to be recovered as well. In the case of Mahmood  EWCA Crim 1532, the court dealt with the relevance of cash when determining which sentencing category an offence fell into.
A large quantity of drugs was seized from Mahmood’s premises along with around £30,000 in cash.
The Judge found that the offending fell into Category 2 harm, not Category 3 as had been submitted. The Judge aggregated not only the weight of the drugs found (in total, about half a kilogram), but also what the cash represented in terms of drugs. The Judge took the view that just under £30,000 of cash was equivalent to the value of about half a kilogram of heroin.
Together, drugs of about half a kilogram and cash equivalent to a further half a kilogram amounted to an overall weight equivalent of about 1 kilogram according to the Judge. This meant that the case fell into Category 2 and not Category 3.
On the Applicant’s behalf, it was submitted before the Judge that since the heroin found was 434 grams, the case fell into Category 3.
However, the Judge rejected the submissions advanced on the Applicant’s behalf. He found that the Applicant fell within the centre of Category 2, as if he had been in possession of 1 kilogram of Class A drugs.
Mahmood appealed his sentence.
What did the Court of Appeal decide?
The court held that:
‘…the Judge was entitled to assess the nature of the dealing and to find that the Applicant had a leading role. The evidence in particular of large quantities of drugs and cash, keys and safes at different addresses has more than one of the indicia of a “leading role” being satisfied. The purity of the heroin, which is not explained by the Applicant, indicated that he is likely to have had close links with the original source. It was not cut, and there was evidence that it was highly likely to be of high purity.
For the reasons which he gave, the Judge was also entitled to rely on the cash as evidence of an expectation of substantial financial gain. That was whether the cash was looked at simply as cash in hand from drug dealing or, as the Judge found, that it represented profit from drug dealing.
The fact that there was evidence of a number of addresses, two safes containing substantial quantities of cash at different addresses and keys in one property relating to another property, indicated and added to the ability of the Judge to find that a commercial operation was being undertaken which went beyond simply street dealing.’
However, we have to treat this decision with a degree of caution. Mahmood had pleaded guilty to money laundering so far as the cash was concerned, as it was the proceeds of crime. When the cash can not so clearly be linked to criminal conduct, caution must be exercised before too readily concluding that it is a proper factor in assessing harm for sentencing purposes. In all cases, those defending will need to examine such evidence with the utmost care.
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[Image credit: “Money on my mind” by jo.sau is licensed under CC BY 2.0) Read More
With many offences, the punishment may vary according to the context of the criminality. For example, violence in a domestic context is usually treated more harshly than the same level of harm against a stranger. The same is true for drugs case, especially when it comes to drugs in prisons.
A failure to understand this basic point can result in clients being given incorrect advice about the likely sentence. An attempt to ‘over mitigate’ and suggest an unrealistic penalty can often backfire. This is because the court loses sight of other better points made in mitigation.
Recently, a man pleaded guilty to taking three relatively small drugs packages into prison, at the request of his cousin. The packages contained cannabis resin, cannabis bush and 20 steroid tablets.
In passing sentence, the judge observed that anyone involved in smuggling items of this sort into a prison commits an offence that passes the custody threshold by a significant degree.
He also relied upon the previous authorities of the Court of Appeal. He said that it had been made abundantly clear that;
“the smuggling of drugs into prison undermines the order of our custodial institutions and causes problems for those who are responsible for supervising prisons and looking after the welfare of inmates.”
That is a view with which the appeal court re-endorsed on this occasion.
What happened in the appeal?
When considering a sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment, the advocate on appeal sought to invoke the drugs sentencing guideline. When that guideline is applied in isolation, it suggests that a sentence of 18 months is manifestly excessive.
Under that guideline, this offence would fall into the significant role Category 4 part of the guideline. Therefore, the starting point should have been a high-level community order.
The Court of Appeal rejected that submission, and made the following observations:
“The drugs guidelines are of course helpful in sentencing offences of this sort, but the reality here is that the mischief is bringing the drugs into prison. That is a very significant aggravating feature and whilst we rely upon the guidelines for some assistance, they cannot determine the final prison sentence to be imposed. In the view of this court, this falls way outside the range which [Counsel] has identified to us today.
The taking into prison of drugs is pernicious. It causes discipline problems within any custodial institution; it endangers the safety of the inmates and staff and adds greatly to the burden of trying to impose discipline.
In the view of this court, having been given full credit for the plea, which he had entered at the earliest opportunity, the total sentence of 18 months cannot be said either to be wrong in principle or manifestly excessive, reflecting as it does a total sentence for three separate offences of bringing different items into prison on this occasion.”
All of our advocates understand the guidelines and broader sentencing considerations. We can be relied upon to obtain the best result for all of our clients.
How we can assist
If you need specialist advice in relation to any criminal investigation or prosecution, from the initial investigation through to court proceedings, please get in touch. Call John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us help.Read More
Why hasn’t Michael Gove been arrested?
A question on many people’s lips since the former Justice Secretary admitted to using cocaine several times earlier in his career.
So, could he face the legal consequences of this?
Cocaine is a Class A drug, the most serious category. Drug offences are governed by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and whilst buying a controlled drug in this scenario is not an offence, possession is. It carries up to seven years in prison.
Is Michael Gove’s confession enough?
Possibly. The Prosecution will usually have to prove that a substance is in fact a controlled drug, and the most convenient way to do that is through a forensic report.
In this case, though, the drugs are long gone and can’t be analysed. The prosecution would have to rely on his public confession.
A confession was relied on in R v Chatwood  1 All ER 467 where the Court of Appeal said that a confession could amount to evidence that, on the face of it, the defendant had been in possession where he was expressing an informed opinion. However, the confessions in that case were made to police officers when the defendants were being questioned about the offences.
Whether Michael Gove’s opinion could be described as ‘informed’ will be the key question and would likely depend on how often he used the drug. He would probably be invited to attend an interview under caution first of all, to see if he repeated his allegations.
His confession could be used as evidence, however, if he were to be charged with attempted possession under the Criminal Attempts Act 1981.
The prosecution could accept that Gove did not actually possess cocaine but allege instead that he had tried to possess it. The maximum sentence is the same.
Has it been too long to charge Michael Gove with a drugs offence?
No. There is no general ‘Statute of Limitations’ in England and Wales. Offences only triable in the Magistrates’ Court usually have a limit of six months, but possession of a drug is not one of those.
He could, theoretically, still be charged.
Will Michael Gove be prosecuted?
The Crown Prosecution Service would make a decision as to whether a prosecution should proceed.
To do this, they apply the Full Code Test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors. This is the same for every offence.
The Full Code Test has two stages which need to be met. These are the evidential stage, and the public interest stage.
In short, there needs to be enough evidence for a realistic chance of conviction, and it must be in the public interest to bring a case. If a case fails either test, it will not be prosecuted.
The confession is potentially enough evidence for a case to be brought. A Crown Prosecutor would have to be satisfied that it, and any other evidence, is admissible and leads to a realistic prospect of conviction.
Any evidence from Owen Bennett, the City AM political journalist who outed Gove’s cocaine use in his unauthorised biography of the Environment Secretary, or Gove’s political advisors to whom he confessed would need to be carefully considered, and a prosecutor may have grave doubts as to its admissibility.
In the event there was enough evidence, the case would also have to pass the public interest stage. A case will usually pass this stage unless there are factors against the prosecution that outweigh those in favour.
This stage takes into account a lot of factors, including the seriousness of the offence, the circumstances, any harm caused, impact on any victims, and whether a prosecution is proportionate.
The likely penalty would be a small fine or community punishment at most.
Therefore, Gove could be prosecuted but it is unlikely in all of the circumstances. Reputationally and politically, this admission could exact a great cost.
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If you need specialist advice, then get in touch with John Howey on 020 7 388 1658 and let us help. We can advise on all aspects of your case.Read More