Appeal court orders drink driver to pay €20,000 fine by New Year’s Eve

Court found sentence given to Muiris Finn for hitting two women with his car was unduly lenient

A drink driver has been given until New Year’s Eve to pay a €20,000 fine as part of his sentence for dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm.  File photograph: John Giles/PA Wire.

A drink driver has been given until New Year’s Eve to pay a €20,000 fine as part of his sentence for dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm. File photograph: John Giles/PA Wire.

 

A drink driver has been given until New Year’s Eve to pay a €20,000 fine as part of his sentence for dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm.

The Court of Appeal heard that Muiris Flynn crashed his car into two cyclists while four times over the limit, leaving both with life-changing injuries.

The court previously found that the 18-month jail term originally imposed on the 31-year-old was unduly lenient.

However, as he had already been released from prison and found a new job by the time of his appeal, the three-judge court decided not to increase the custodial element of his sentence but to impose a “substantial fine” instead.

The court previously heard that the electrician had been drinking the night before he lost control and crashed into the triathletes, who were on a morning training cycle in Co Roscommon.

Flynn, of Meadow Bank, Geevagh, Co Sligo, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm, drink driving, and driving without insurance at Doon near Boyle on September 24th, 2017.

Roscommon Circuit Court heard that sisters Aoife and Áine O’Connor were cycling with their friend, Catherine Carey, at around 9.30am that Sunday. They were all wearing fluorescent clothing and cycling in single file close to the verge of the road.

Flung into the air

They were on a straight stretch when Aoife O’Connor, who was at the back, heard the sound of car tyres behind her. She saw Flynn’s car skidding uncontrollably and warned the others. The car then struck her sister and friend, who were flung into the air. Both had to be rushed to hospital in Sligo.

Ms Carey, a mother of three, suffered spinal fractures, a dislocated hip and other injuries. She was unable to withstand the pain of the journey home from hospital for four months and had to recover in her mother’s home, meaning she was separated from her children for much of this time.

Due to the effect of her injuries, the secondary school teacher was unable to return to work, lost financial independence and could no longer engage in physical activities with her children.

Áine O’Connor suffered significant pelvic fractures, along with other fractures and injuries. She was confined to a wheelchair for 10 weeks.

The physiotherapist gave evidence that she’d had a baby 11 weeks before the collision. Her husband had to stop working for four months while he and her family cared for Ms O’Connor and their baby, who she was unable to feed or hold her for any length of time.

She returned to work a year later but in a less physical position and on limited hours. She continued to experience pain, altered sensation, physical limitations, negative emotions and physical scars.

Judge Francis Comerford sentenced Flynn to four years in prison for dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm, with the final 2½ years suspended. He also disqualified him from driving for eight years.

Leniency

The maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing serious bodily harm is 10 years in prison, and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) appealed against the leniency of Flynn’s sentence last month.

Flynn, who was released from prison in August, attended the Court of Appeal remotely.

Cathal Ó Braonáin BL, for the DPP, submitted that the sentencing judge had erred in fixing the headline indication at too low a point, had applied insufficient weight to the aggravating factors and undue weight to the mitigating factors.

Desmond Dockery SC, on behalf of Flynn, said he accepted that “the judge was lenient on Mr Flynn, maybe even very lenient”. However, he submitted that the judge had to fix his sentence in the mid-range for that offence and, because he did so, there was no error.

“I’m acknowledging that he chose the lower end of the mid-range,” he added.

He informed the court that his client, who had lost his job of 11 years with Irish Rail, had found a new job since his release. Prison had a marked effect on him, he said.

In their judgment, Mr Justice John Edwards, presiding with Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy and Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, ruled that Flynn’s sentence had been unduly lenient.

They nominated a headline sentence of six years imprisonment rather than the four years nominated by the sentencing judge. They reduced this by half after considering mitigation.

Compensation offer

They then imposed a fine of €20,000 on Flynn, having heard that he had offered his victims €12,000 in compensation, which they declined.

The said said Flynn’s conduct since his release from prison was relevant and he had found a job with an employer who spoke highly of him.

“We believe that the interests of justice and the promotion and incentivisation of his continued reform would best be served by not requiring him to return to prison,” they said, suspending the unserved balance of the sentence.

Mr Dockery said that his client was in a position to pay the fine in one instalment, as a result of receiving some family assistance.

He explained that he would pay his family back a third of his wage every week until the loan was repaid, which would take him about three years.

Mr Justice Edwards noted that this was a matter for Flynn and his family, but explained that he had to put a date on it, and selected December 31st next.