Judge delivered sentence at Tullamore Circuit Court
A SUSPENDED sentence of 21 months has been imposed on a 30-year-old man who admitted possessing child possessing child pornography in Offaly five years ago.
Patrick O'Leary, Thomastown, Rath, Birr, must also pay €5,000 to the Sub garda youth diversion project in Birr and he entered a €500 bond to keep the peace for five years.
The maximum sentence in such cases is five years, Judge Keenan Johnson said, but because he was satisfied the offending was in the “mid to lower-upper” range it would attract a sentence of three years and he would reduce it to a year and nine months after mitigation.
At a sentencing hearing at Tullamore District Court, Judge Johnson said that on January 12, 2016 gardai seized two laptops at the residence of Mr O'Leary and found them to contain over 120 images of child pornography, 79 of which were movies.
He said they appeared to be downloaded between August 8, 2015 and the end of January 2016.
Because of what Judge Johnson called an “inordinate” delay in prosecuting the matter due to delays in analysing computers at the garda cyber unit, the accused was not arrested until April 6, 2019.
The judge did note that new resources had been provided to the unit to reduce the delays.
He said that “unfortunately” with the proliferation of digital technology and the development of the internet cases like the one before him have become much more prevalent.
Ownership of a smart device with internet access carried with it responsibility and that involved using it in a lawful fashion that did not “enable or promote” the creation or proliferation of child pornography.
In this case, there was no question of the accused having distributed the pornography or having contributed to its creation, nor had he paid for the images.
He said child pornography possession was not a victimless crime and the children exploited had their lives blighted by the physical and psychological effects of the abuse.
Judge Johnson said the quantity of images found, and the premeditation and repetitive offending behaviour were aggravating factors in sentencing and it seemed to him the movies were “particularly offensive and disgusting”. One of the movies was more than 29 minutes long.
A probation report noted the accused was at moderate risk of reoffending and a forensic psychologist assessed him at low to medium risk of reoffending.
Both the probation officer and the psychologist said Mr O'Leary needed to work on his capacity to form intimate relationships, his social and emotional isolation and his capacity to meet his sexual needs in a healthy manner.
The man's early plea of guilty was a mitigating factor, as were his admissions to the gardai and his immediate engagement in one-to-one therapy.
Judge Johnson said he was impressed with the testimony of Mr O'Leary at an earlier sentencing hearing and felt his remorse was genuine and sincere.
It was clear to him the offending was committed against a backdrop of the accused suffering depression and social isolation, triggered by leaving third level education, and his computer had become his “best friend”.
He returned home, shut out the outside world and became a “prisoner in his own bedroom” on the internet.
The probation report indicated he viewed the child pornography when his mood was low and he had feelings of severe depression and he did so on 16 to 24 occasions over a four-year period.
The judge commended the man for his engagement with the probation officer and the counsellor and noted he had spent almost €8,000 on therapy and intended continuing the sessions.
The probation officer had said incarceration would undermine the therapeutic work and the accused had become more optimistic and had been offered work with a company carrying out vehicle adaptions for people with disabilities.
Judge Johnson said Mr O'Leary had been put on the sex offenders register and “that is a significant punishment in and of itself”.
He agreed with defence counsel Stephen Byrne, BL, who said conviction would inhibit the accused for the rest of his life and the fact that he had the offending hanging over him for five years was a “further punishment”.
He said suspending the sentence for five years would foster and encourage the continued rehabilitation of the accused and he ordered him to submit to the supervision of the probation service for 18 months and follow all its directions.
He is also to engage with the sex offenders risk assessment management process and not capture any images of anyone under the age of 18.
He must also make all instruments he has with internet access available to the probation service or the gardai at any time during the suspended sentence and must not access child pornography in the future.
The €5,000 must be paid by him to the Sub Project in Birr within a year.