Practice and Procedure


PUBLISHED March 12, 2003

A sentence of two years' imprisonment was unduly lenient for possession of heroin with intent to supply, even allowing a discount for the mistaken belief of the defendant that he was carrying cannabis.Application by the Attorney-General under s.36 Criminal Justice Act 1988 to review as unduly lenient a sentence of two years' imprisonment for possession of a class A drug with intent to supply. On 3 October 2002 at Carlisle Magistrate's Court the defendant ('S') pleaded guilty to possession of heroin with intent to supply. On 19 November 2002 Recorder Freeman at Carlisle Crown Court sentenced S to two years' imprisonment. On 13 September 2001 British Transport police attended Carlisle train station acting on information received that there was a bag on the train from London containing a gun. When the train arrived a blue holdall was examined and found to contain a plastic gun. The police approached three men who denied the bag was theirs. They were told to leave the train as they had been acting in an unruly manner. S then said the bag was his. He was taken to the police station and on the way one of the police officers saw S put something down the front of his jeans. He was searched and a package was found. S said it contained cannabis. He was arrested, cautioned and made a no comment interview. He was interviewed again the following day and said the package contained cannabis and he had been asked to courier the package as he owed a ?500 drug debt. S was informed that the package actually contained heroin. S pleaded guilty on the basis that he acted as a courier to pay a debt and had believed the package contained cannabis. The Attorney-General referred the sentence as unduly lenient given the aggravating factors that S was a courier for a large amount of drugs and he had previous convictions for possession of controlled drugs. In mitigation was S's plea of guilty and the accepted basis of the plea. The Attorney-General contended that the judge gave too much weight to the mistaken belief of S. S contended that the material the drugs were wrapped in made it impossible to identify what they were without opening the package. Also the transport police had initially thought the package contained cannabis.HELD: (1) The sentence passed was unduly lenient. It was clearly necessary to give a discount in sentence to allow for the mistaken belief. However, the court also had to take into account any opportunity S had to satisfy himself what the drugs actually were. It was equally important to look at the context in which S came to be transporting drugs. (2) S owed £500 as a drug debt. He knew he was dealing with dealers and accepted, without question, that the package contained cannabis. S was sufficiently involved in the drugs scene and was prepared to carry a large quantity of drugs and the less questions asked the better. Therefore, any discount for mistaken belief did not have to be high. (3) The appropriate sentence in a contested trial where a defendant knew he was carrying heroin was between seven to seven and a half years. A discount for the guilty plea and the element of belief had to be taken into account which meant in all the circumstances a sentence of five years at first instance was the proper sentence. Allowing for double jeopardy a sentence of four years would be substituted.Application allowed.