Court of Appeal: Conviction quashed for man suffering from psychosis during knife attack
The Court of Appeal has quashed a conviction for a man who stabbed his roommate on the grounds that certain statements made to gardaí should not have been admitted at trial. The accused had been suffering from psychosis at the time of the attack, it was held.
About this case:
- Citation: IECA 59
- Court:Court of Appeal
- Judge:Mr Justice George Birmingham
Delivering judgment in the case, Mr Justice George Birmingham held that the gardaí had acted entirely properly in having the accused medically assessed in custody. However, in light of the unusual presentation of the accused and the concern shown for his state of mind, it was unfair to admit the inculpatory statements.
The accused was a French man living in Limerick. The victim rented an apartment with the accused. After a period, the accused began acting in an erratic way.
The accused was spent a lot of time on his computer and propounded several strange conspiracy theories, including in relation to the Irish government and the 5G network. It also appeared that the accused became suspicious of the victim and that he was instrumental in preventing the accused from obtaining a job.
In July 2019, the victim was at home for lunch. The accused burst into his room and asked whether he could trust him. The victim brushed off the question and the accused returned to his computer in the kitchen.
A short while later, the victim went into the kitchen. There was a bread knife beside the accused. The pair had a brief conversation about the victim loaning the accused €100. Then, suddenly and without warning, the accused stabbed the victim in the left and right sides.
The injured party moved through the house and was stabbed again in the shoulder. The accused then helped him into a lift and exited onto the street. However, it appeared he later went back up to the apartment to change clothes and exited via a fire exit.
The victim managed to stagger up the street and collapsed in a shop. He was assisted by passing emergency service staff. He was brought to hospital, where it was confirmed that without emergency surgery, he would have died.
The accused was later found by gardaí at the roadside. He had blood on his hands and clothes. The knife was tucked inside his belt. As gardaí approached the accused, he fell to his knees and put his hands on his head. The accused was cautioned, at which point he was recorded as stating that “he met with his destiny”.
The accused was cautioned a second time and gardaí asked what he meant. He replied: “I knifed the Irish guy because he was a Satanist and that after 35 years he met with his destiny.” The accused maintained that he did not make this statement and instead said: “I’m French, I’m Catholic, I have 37 years old.”
On his arrival in Henry Street Garda Station, the accused requested to speak with a Benedictine priest. The gardaí facilitated this request. They contacted Glenstal Abbey who, by chance, had a priest who was both a medical doctor and spoke fluent French. After speaking with the accused, he expressed concerns about his mental state.
Another medical doctor was called who confirmed the concerns of the priest. The accused was then involuntarily committed to University Hospital Limerick in the acute psychiatric ward. The hospital confirmed that the accused needed treatment but did not have capacity to cater for his needs.
The accused was discharged from hospital the following day, where he was arrested and charged before the District Court. The sequence of events meant that the accused was never questioned in custody, in particular regarding what he said during his initial arrest.
While in custody, it was confirmed by another doctor that the accused suffered from psychosis. While it appeared that there were grounds for a special verdict in the case, this was not pursued.
The accused was convicted in Limerick Circuit Criminal Court in November 2020 and was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years’ imprisonment. The accused appealed the verdict on two bases: first, that the trial judge erred in admitting the inculpatory statements and second, that there was absent or missing evidence in the case which rendered the investigation fundamentally flawed.
Court of Appeal
The appeal centred on an examination of a voir dire hearing in which the trial judge allowed the inculpatory statements to be admitted into evidence. The trial judge held that they would exercise their discretion to allow the admission of the evidence. Mr Justice Birmingham held that it appeared the trial judge was working on a basis that the events involved a breach of Rule 9 of the Judges Rules. However, the court disagreed.
It was said that argument was confined solely to the issue of the failure to read back the statement to the accused and to proffer same for signature. The Rules did not require these actions to occur immediately, the court said. In the normal course, it would be expected that the statements would be put to the accused in an interview, but the interview did not occur in the case due to the intervening issues of the accused’s psychiatric status.
Even if there was a breach of the Judges Rules, the court was in “no doubt” that the trial judge would have been entitled to exercise his discretion to admit the evidence.
Turning to the question of missing evidence, the court held that the absence of certain items such as a Bible and rosary beads had no merit. There was no substance in this point of appeal and the court acknowledged that this was not pressed by counsel.
The court also considered the submission that certain road traffic convictions against one of the arresting gardaí had not been disclosed in the case. In April 2012, a garda had been fined €900 for his involvement in a fatal crash. These convictions were not disclosed to the previous solicitors in advance of the trial.
The court held that this new information could not reasonably be expected to affect the verdict of the jury or the credibility of the garda. The suggestion that a conviction which attracted a fine over a decade ago could affect the jury’s verdict was “fanciful”.
Finally, the court turned to consider the failure to interview the appellant. At the outset, the court held that no criticism could be made of the gardaí for the manner in which they dealt with the accused following his arrest. They were to be commended for providing the request to the priest and for following up on his concerns. The decision to call a doctor and have the accused committed to hospital was entirely proper.
On this basis, the accused was treated properly in custody and this could therefore dispose of the question as to whether the roadside admission was properly admitted to evidence. However, the court held that it was “left with a certain sense of disquiet”.
The court held that the accused was clearly behaving strangely at the roadside and in the station. The court inferred that the reason he was accommodated was due to the gardaí’s concerns about his mental health. These concerns were reinforced by the medical doctor.
The combination of the views of all the doctors in the case suggested that the accused was suffering from psychosis at the time he provided the statements at the side of the road. Accordingly, the court held that, in the unusual circumstances of the case, fairness required the remarks to be excluded from evidence.
The court quashed the conviction and would hear further submissions on the question of a retrial.
The People at the Suit of the Director of Public Prosecutions v. Fancony  IECA 59