A man who was jailed for six years for manslaughter despite the State accepting he was legally insane at the time of the incident is to appeal his case.
Dariusz Alchimionek (44) was driving in Geashill, Co Offaly, on December 29th, 2015, when his car crossed the central white line and collided with another vehicle, killing John Gorman (19) and critically injuring his brother Adam (16).
Alchimionek's trial in Tullamore Circuit Court heard he suffered from schizophrenia and believed he was being chased by Islamic State terrorists at the time.
Psychiatrists for both the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the defence said Alchimionek was suffering from a mental illness at the time meaning a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) would be appropriate.
The jury was instructed by Judge Keenan Johnson that "the only logical verdict" was NGRI.
Despite this, the jury convicted Alchimionek on both counts.
Judge Johnson said “the jury’s verdict flew in the face of the expert medical evidence and as such is difficult to accept.
‘Only logical verdict’
“The verdict was also returned in contravention of the direction that I gave the jury in my charge, when I advised them that the only logical verdict that they could reach was one of not guilty by reason of insanity,” the judge said.
“The consequences of the guilty verdict in this case means that the court has no option but to send the accused, who was and is clearly suffering from a serious mental illness, to prison, despite the fact that a secure psychiatric would be in the best interests of the accused and society.”
Alchimionek’s lawyers have now lodged an appeal against the verdict, which will be heard on October 16th.
A defendant who pleads not NGRI must go before a jury even if the State accepts they were legally insane at the time of the offence.
Deliberations are usually little more than a formality and last no more than a few minutes. One judge, the late Mr Justice Paul Carney, used to tell told jurors to return a NGRI verdict without even letting them retire to deliberate.
"This outcome in this case does seem unjust, in light of the psychiatric evidence on both sides that a verdict of NGRI was appropriate," Dr Darius Whelan, a senior law lecturer in UCC specialising in mental health law, told The Irish Times.
Dr Whelan said juries are generally quite good at understanding that they should return a NGRI verdict if all the evidence points one way.
However, “when any matter goes to a jury, there is a risk that the jury will make a finding which is contrary to general expectations based on the evidence”.
Dr Whelan said some jurors may believe “the myth that an insanity defence can be easily feigned” or that insanity verdicts result in a shorter period of detention.
‘Difficult to prove’
In fact insanity defences are very difficult to prove and for that reason are rarely used. When a person is found NGRI they are usually remanded indefinitely to the Central Mental Hospital, where they can remain for decades.
After Alchimionek’s conviction, Judge Johnson noted NGRI verdicts can be “substantially more punitive for the accused in that they could end up being detained in the Central Mental Hospital for a considerably longer period than the custodial sentence the court could impose following a guilty plea or conviction.”
The judge added: “It needs to be remembered that the proffering of a defence of not guilty by reason of insanity is never made lightly by an accused. Indeed I am aware of instances where accused persons have pleaded guilty rather than have a trial and run the risk of being found not guilty by reason of insanity.”