A Laois man who was jailed less than three months ago for raping a friend on wasteland on Halloween night when they were both teenagers has had his conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal.
The conviction was overturned on Monday evening after the Court of Appeal allowed the introduction of new evidence into the case that had not been available to the defence at the trial in the form of a post-trial affidavit from a then 14-year-old friend of the complainant.
Barrister for the now 20-year-old appellant, Ronan Munro SC, submitted to the court that there was no apparent reason at the trial to suspect that there could be potentially important evidence to come from the girl, who was briefly mentioned. She had not been sought during what counsel submitted was a “defective” Garda investigation.
Mr Munro said that the girl who claimed she met the complainant on the night had made a sworn affidavit to gardaí regarding their encounter after she learned of his unanimous jury conviction in June of this year.
Mr Munro said the affidavit states that the friend of the girl raised the question of previous sexual encounters between the defendant and the complainant, that the complainant had expressed her sexual desire towards the defendant to the girl before the alleged rape and that this should have been put in front of the jury at trial.
Lawyers for the State had argued at the Court of Appeal that the evidence related only to collateral issues already tested at the trial in the case and that no-one else had observed what happened between both parties.
However, the three-judge court ruled against the State, who were also denied an opportunity to cross-examine the girl in the confines of the appeal motion, saying that both the new evidence and any cross examination in the case was a matter for a jury.
In quashing the conviction at the Court of Appeal, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy said the evidence was both potentially relevant and admissible. He said the court found it could be put before a jury “merely on a matter of principle”, even if that evidence was to be found to be solely collateral, as argued by the prosecution.
The trial had heard that both the complainant and the defendant left a social gathering at a Halloween bonfire to move into a wasteland area to go to the toilet.
The court heard that the girl said she was pulling up her underwear, having gone to the toilet when the accused said to her “give us a feel, give us a feel”. The girl refused, but she claimed that the defendant turned her around and raped her while she continually asked him to stop. At the time of the alleged offence, he was 16-years-old and she was a year younger, the court heard.
The now 20-year-old man had pleaded not guilty before Mr Justice Paul Burns at the Central Criminal Court to rape at the area in Laois on October 31st, 2019. He has no previous convictions.
On July 25th last, Mr Justice Burns sentenced the man to three years in prison but suspended the final six months on strict conditions including that he engage with the Probation Service for three years upon his ultimate release from prison. He also ordered that he attend a course, approved by the Probation Service, that deals with consent in the context of sexual relationships. He acknowledged that the man would now be registered as a sex offender.
Mr Munro had outlined that since the alleged offence, his client had developed a drug and alcohol problem and there was a concern he was suicidal. He handed in a number of letters from the man’s family, extended family and local community. He said his client maintained that there had been a previous sexual relationship between him and the victim but Mr Justice Burns asked “what difference does a prior sexual history make in the context of a rape offence?”
The court heard that before the girl made a complaint to gardaí, the accused had attended the local Garda station with his sister to inform them that he was aware that she was going to make an allegation of rape, which he denied.
In a victim impact statement, the now 19-year-old girl stated she would have considered herself an extrovert before the events on the night, surrounded by people from all ages and from different areas like athletics and football.
She said she would have fought with her parents to be out with her friends all the time, but said since that night she has seen herself change into a totally different person.
“From that day I lost a lot of friends that I never thought I could,” she said.
She said she moved school and home because of how “unsafe” she felt and that she lost her independence since.