A man who fired a handgun through the window of a house in Cork city and hit a young woman in the neck, causing her life-threatening injuries, has lost his Supreme Court appeal against his convictions.
Gavin Sheehan, a father of one aged in his 30s, of Laurel Ridge, Shanakiel, Cork was sentenced to an effective 11 year prison term in 2017 after he was convicted of assault causing serious harm to Ciara Sheehan [no relation] and of three firerarms offences at Laurel Ridge, Shanakiel, on May 15th, 2016.
Cork Circuit Criminal Court heard Sheehan had assaulted a young man, Dylan Cunningham, in a chip shop in Blackpool earlier that evening and, later that night, windows were broken at Sheehan’s family home at Laurel Ridge.
Later, at about 1.30am, Ciara Sheehan, Dylan Cunningham’s girlfriend, was at the Cunningham family home at Hollywood Estate, Blarney Road when she heard a loud bang and realised she had been shot. She fell to the ground with a gunshot wound to the neck.
She underwent emergency surgery and had a bullet removed from her neck, where it had lodged in a muscle but avoided rupturing any major blood vessels.
The Court of Appeal, despite making some findings in Gavin Sheehan’s favour, later dismissed his appeal over his convictions.
Sheehan secured a further appeal to the Supreme Court.
His core grounds were that the trial judge wrongly refused to allow him to discharge his legal representatives at the start of the trial and that provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1984, as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2007, which permit inferences to be drawn from responses to Garda questioning, were wrongly applied in the trial.
Giving the five judge court’s judgment today Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley said an accused person has, in principle, an entitlement as a matter of personal choice to refuse to accept legal representation.
However, she could not find Sheehan had made a voluntary and informed decision to waive his right to legal representation and represent himself at the trial.
When asked directly by the trial judge if he wanted to represent himself, he did not say he did but rather stated he was still reviewing the evidence and did not have a defence prepared.
His irritation with his lawyers arose from his not having seen them that morning and they had permitted him to be arraigned when he felt the trial had come on too fast and he was not ready for it, she said. There was “nothing to indicate” he wished to take over the conduct of his own defence and proceed with the trial.
The COA erred in finding Sheehan had exercised his right to conduct his own defence of the case and that his right had been breached, she held.
Addressing the inferences ground, she said the jury had before it CCTV footage of Sheehan holding an object which, it was not seriously contested, was sufficiently clear for the jury to be satisfied was a gun.
The jury were entitled to take Sheehan’s failure to give any form of plausible explanation of the footage into account, to draw the inference no other innocent explanation was available and to use that inference to support their belief as to what was to be seen in the footage.
The jury was also entitled to infer from the evidence a particular phone belonged to Sheehan and he was telling a friend in text messages he was intending or anticipating a fight with the Cunninghams and was in possession of a gun, she said.
The interviewing gardaí were entitled to invoke section 18 of the 1984 Act, concerning drawing of inferences, in respect of the CCTV footage, she held.
Sheehan had not previously given an account relating to this matter, having instead made various different and implausible suggestions the object “might” have been an imitation gun or a knife.
She went on to find the phone text messages did not come within the ambit of section 18 but said those messages were admissible in their own right.
She disagreed with the COA to the effect that a requirement to account for a phone can include a requirement to explain information stored electronically on the phone. The messages at issue here did not call for an explanation from Sheehan since the meaning conveyed was “clear”, she said.
Her conclusions that section 18 did not apply to the text messages should not lead to the convictions being quashed because, taking the case as a whole, she was satisfied the admission of that evidence did not deprive Sheehan of an acquittal.
She was satisfied there was no miscarriage of justice in this case.