Court of Appeal decision - Supplying small quantity of cocaine for immediate use by acquaintance - length of sentence

The appellant pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of a Class A drug, cocaine, and one count of supplying a Class A drug, cocaine. The appellant had a long-standing drug habit and had been convicted of possession of Class A drugs. A woman who was making a documentary film about the appellant and other musicians spent some time in company with the appellant at a flat which she used. In the course of the evening the appellant smoked crack cocaine. He handed to the woman a small bottle containing crack cocaine and lit the cocaine for her to smoke. The following day the appellant again smoked cocaine from the bottle. The next day the woman was found dead in a bedroom at the flat and it was established that the cause of death was heroin poisoning. Her death was unrelated to the earlier events. Sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment for supplying a Class A drug, with four months’ imprisonment concurrent on each count of possession.
It was submitted that the sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment for supplying cocaine was wrong in principle and manifestly excessive, as the offence amounted to social supply at the lowest possible level. The Court was referred to Denslow [1998] Crim. L.R. 566 in which the Court questioned whether it was appropriate to charge a person who had bought drugs for his own use and the use of another with supplying drugs. The Court did not read the observations in Denslow as a statement of sentencing principle that social supply of drugs was to be likened to the offence of possession. In Williams [2003] EWCA Crim 1619; [2004] 1 Cr. App. R. (S.) 15 (p.119) it was said that a custodial sentence would often be appropriate in such circumstances. The Court was satisfied that offences of social supply of Class A drugs were not to be treated as a matter of course as being no more serious than cases of simple possession. Those who flouted the law by the purchase, misuse and supply of Class A drugs contributed to the risk of serious consequences to others. The supply of drugs in whatever circumstances would always be considered a serious matter. The sentencing judge was right to decide that the offences of possession crossed the custody threshold. The only question was whether the terms of imprisonment individually or in totality were manifestly excessive. The Court was satisfied that the sentences passed for the possession offences were not manifestly excessive. The Court had however concluded that the sentence for supplying was too long on the particular facts of the case and that the sentence for that offence should be eight months’ imprisonment.

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case information

Date: 25/09/2012

Client: Regina v Wolfe [2012] 1 Cr.App R. (S) 94

Barrister: Elaine Stapleton

Court: Court of Appeal

Solicitors: Guney Clark & Ryan