R v Darren Joseph Midgley: Court of Appeal Upholds 15-Year Sentence for Drug Conspiracy

Citation: [2023] EWCA Crim 1635
Judgment on

Introduction

In the criminal appellate judgment of R v Darren Joseph Midgley [2023] EWCA Crim 1635, the Court of Appeal considered an application for leave to appeal against sentence following an earlier refusal by the single judge. At issue was whether the sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment handed down for the offence of conspiracy to supply a controlled drug of class A was manifestly excessive or wrong in principle.

Key Facts

Darren Joseph Midgley, then aged 43, pleaded guilty in the Manchester Crown Court to conspiracy to supply cocaine, under section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977. He was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment after receiving a 25% discount for his plea, based on his involvement with the encrypted telecommunications platform EncroChat, where he was identified as “BigLobos”. The indictment period spanned from March to June 2020, during which Midgley was involved in obtaining and supplying at least 11.5 kilograms of cocaine. Due to a discrepancy in the basis of plea and claims of inadequate legal service, the defendant sought to appeal the sentence.

Several legal principles are highlighted in this case:

  1. Sentencing Guidelines for Supply of a Controlled Drug: The Recorder applied the Sentencing Guideline, finding Midgley had a leading role in the conspiracy and determining Category 1 harm due to the significant quantity of drugs (over 5 kilograms of cocaine). This justifies a starting point of 14 years’ custody within a category range of 12 to 16 years.

  2. Mitigation Factors: The sentencing took into account mitigatory factors such as Midgley’s absence of relevant previous convictions and personal circumstances, including a troubled life.

  3. Basis of Plea and Sentencing Outside Guidelines: The defense argued that the basis of plea was accepted under pressure and was incorrect, subsequently leading to an excessive sentence. The defense also claimed that the defendant’s cognitive difficulties were not considered. The Recorder, however, had sentenced Midgley outside the guideline range based on the period of offending, the sophistication of the conspiracy, substantial rewards received, quantity of drugs supplied, and the recognition of a wider conspiracy which increased the seriousness of the offense, drawing on R v Khan [2013] EWCA Crim 80, paragraph 35.

  4. New Evidence and Legal Representation: The defendant’s submission included a psychological report suggesting cognitive difficulties that, according to the defendant, impacted the decision to accept the basis of plea. Criticisms were made toward the legal service provided, with the absence of evidence to substantiate these assertions.

Outcomes

The Court of Appeal thoroughly reviewed the assertions by the defense, the lack of evidence supporting claims of inadequate legal service, and the psychological report. Still, it rejected the notion that cognitive difficulties influenced the basis of plea or the sentencing. The court decided not to admit the psychological report into evidence, finding no significant barriers to communication between the defendant and the legal counsel. It confirmed that the Recorder was correct in his application of sentencing principles, the assessment of the defendant’s role, and the decision to sentence outside the category range for drugs supply.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Court of Appeal refused leave to amend the Notice of Appeal and denied leave to appeal against the sentence. The Court’s decision reaffirmed the original sentence as neither manifestly excessive nor wrong in principle. This judgment underlines the importance of accurate basis of pleas, proper consideration of mitigating factors, and maintaining high standards of legal representation. It also signifies the Court’s reservations about accepting new psychological evidence post-sentence without significant substantiation of its relevance and impact on the case.

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