The Court of Appeal has been “compelled” to quash a jury verdict which convicted a driver of manslaughter, despite agreement amongst doctors that he met the criteria to be found legally insane.
Polish national Dariusz Alchimionek (44), with an address at Barrow Way, Spa Street, Portarlington, Co Laois, had denied the manslaughter of John Gorman (19) and assault causing harm to his brother, Adam, on December 29th, 2015.
The brothers had been returning home from Tullamore when a vehicle driven by Alchimionek suddenly crossed the road into the path of their oncoming car at Ballycrystal, Geashill, Co Offaly.
Tullamore Circuit Criminal Court heard how Alchimionek had become convinced the Islamic State group, or Isis, were about to invade Europe and a third World War was about to begin.
Consultant psychiatrists for both the prosecution and the defence, both of whom worked at the Central Mental Hospital, agreed that Alchimionek met the criteria to be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
The jury had the option of returning one of three verdicts: guilty, not guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity.
The trial judge told the jury: “In light of the medical evidence, it would seem to me that you have no option but to accept... the defence of not guilty by reason of insanity is available to the accused, and in such circumstances, you are obliged to acquit.”
After two hours and 50 minutes of deliberations the jury returned majority guilty verdicts of 11-1 on both counts, which were met with applause in the courtroom. Alchimionek was then sentenced to nine years imprisonment with the final three suspended by Judge Keenan Johnson in October 2017.
Lawyers for Alchimionek, Kenneth Fogarty SC and Niall Flynn BL, advanced the sole ground of appeal that the jury's verdict was "perverse" and against the evidence.
Mr Fogarty said the atmosphere in the Circuit Court was "highly charged". There was an "outpouring of emotion" that was "humanly understandable" but "not desirable in terms of how the law was to be applied".
He said it was explained to Alchimionek that the foregone conclusion of a not guilty verdict by reason of insanity, was a referral to the Central Mental Hospital (CMH). He is currently in prison.
Giving judgment on Tuesday, President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham said the return of a guilty verdict in this case "was against all the evidence" and, as such, "has to be regarded as perverse."
He said the quashing of a jury’s verdict because it was perverse was “very exceptional”, reflecting “the primacy of the jury in our system of criminal justice”.
However, Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards and Mr Justice Brian McGovern, said the Court of Appeal "feels compelled to do that" in this case.
Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Michael Delaney SC, argued that the quashing of the verdict would "have the effect of reducing the jury to a form of rubberstamp" in every trial where is insanity is raised and unchallenged.
Mr Delaney said it was a jury's right to reject expert evidence, even if it was unchallenged, if they weren't sufficiently convinced by it.
During the hearing before the three-judge court, Mr Justice John Edwards commented that juries take an oath to give a true verdict in accordance with the evidence. There was no evidence, other than the unanimous expert opinion, on Alchimionek’s state of mind at the time, the judge said.
The case was put back a week to allow both sides consider the decision and to provide any up-to-date information on the availability of a bed in the Central Mental Hospital. The DPP is seeking a retrial.
Mr Fogarty asked the court to commit his client to the CMH for inpatient care.
He said his instructing solicitor, Brian Gilmartin, had tried to find out if a bed was available in the CMH but "we haven't been successful".