Solicitor caught with cocaine on Mountjoy visit spared conviction
A solicitor who had a bag of cocaine in his wallet on his way to visit a client in Mountjoy Prison has avoided a career-threatening conviction.
Aonghus McCarthy (32) pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of the drug but insisted he did not know how it got there and suspected someone had planted it at a party.
Judge Gerry Jones accepted the explanation after hearing Mr McCarthy had experience of professional prison visits and would have been "well aware" he was going to be searched.
Adjourning the case, he said he would strike the charge out if the defendant paid €1,250 to a drugs charity.
The judge said Mr McCarthy was in a "noble profession" but he was treating him no differently to anyone else.
The solicitor, of Co Cork but living at Wellington House, Clancy Quay, Dublin 8, admitted simple possession of 0.33g of cocaine, worth €26.
A more serious charge of conveying a drug into prison was dropped by the prosecution, Dublin District Court heard.
Mr McCarthy, who is on the panel of free legal aid solicitors, represented a number of clients in the court before his own case was dealt with.
He then moved from the lawyers' bench and stood in the body of the courtroom for the hearing.
Garda Sergeant Zita Woods was led in evidence by prosecutor Lorcan Staines. She said a prison officer was on duty at 6.30pm on February 8 last year when Mr McCarthy came in looking for a professional visit.
He presented himself at security and placed some items in a tray, including his wallet, which were sent through the X-ray machine.
The officer saw on the screen there was a black patch within the wallet, which concerned her.
She stopped the machine and found a section in the wallet which contained a suspect package she believed might hold a controlled drug.
She went to get a colleague and when she came back, Mr McCarthy had the wallet in his hand, looking at it. The plastic wrapper had a white substance in it, the court heard.
Garda Barry Brennan then arrived from Mountjoy Garda Station and the package was placed in a sealed evidence bag, the court heard.
The accused denied owning the cocaine and was invited to the garda station, where he was asked if he recognised the substance in the bag and replied: "No, not at all."
Mr McCarthy accepted it had been found in his wallet but had "no idea how it had got there".
"I absolutely, 100pc, did not put that in my wallet. Somebody else must have put it there," he told gardai.
He said he did not do drugs and "wouldn't risk the entirety of my career".
When Gda Brennan met him later, Mr McCarthy said he suspected somebody he had been at a party with had planted the drugs. No more came of this.
The court heard he only had one previous conviction, for driving without insurance, for which he was fined at Middleton District Court in 2012.
Defence solicitor Michael Hanahoe said Mr McCarthy was "well aware anybody visiting Mountjoy would be searched".
"He is an intelligent and successful man who has suffered greatly as a result of this," he added.
"The State has accepted a plea to simple possession, and I would ask you to deal with the case on that basis.
"He has a good future in front of him and places himself at the mercy of the court."
The judge said: "I am glad the State has withdrawn the other charge because I couldn't see that going too far. I am not going to treat him any differently from any other defendant.
"The profession he is in is a noble profession. I accept he probably didn't know it was there. Nevertheless, it was there."
He told Mr McCarthy to pay €1,250 to the Merchant's Quay Project and said he would strike the case out. He adjourned the case to March 6 for confirmation of the payment and said he would impose a conviction and fine in default if it is not paid.