A Laois man who pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual assault has been refused an application to change his plea to one of not guilty.
The 55-year-old man, who cannot be named, was charged with sexual assault, on September 15, 2015, at a location in Laois.
At Portlaoise Circuit Court on July 3, 2018, the accused pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault against a named female. The accused later sought to change this to a plea of not guilty and the matter was considered by the court in June last.
The accused said he was panicked into pleading guilty due to pressure from his legal team. He also said that he was possibly under the influence of medication, namely Xanax, which he had taken on the morning he pleaded guilty.
The case was originally fixed for trial in January 2018, but had to be abandoned when the senior defence counsel was unable to continue due to personal reasons.
In an affidavit, the accused claimed that shortly after this abandoned trial he made a suicide attempt, however no medical evidence was produced to the court and a forensic psychiatric report on the accused indicated this alleged suicide attempt was in mid-2018.
On June 27, 2018, a voir dire was held (a hearing within a trial), which determined that allegations of a similar nature made by two other parties should be admitted into evidence in the trial.
According to the accused’s affidavit, after this judgement was delivered his legal team informed him that it was going to be harder to fight the case.
In an affidavit, his legal team confirmed that they did set out their opinion and assessment of the case and utterly refuted the suggestion that any form of pressure was placed on the accused to plead guilty.
Accordingly, on July 3 a guilty plea was entered. On July 4, the accused informed his legal team that he wished to change this plea, and was informed by his legal team that there was now an objection to bail.
In their affidavit, his legal team stated that the change in attitude by the State in relation to the accused’s bail caused the accused to become agitated and he then expressed a desire to change his plea.
A forensic psychiatrist’s report indicated that the accused was not suffering from any mental illness at the time of the alleged offence and he was fit at the time he entered his guilty plea.
After giving the matter careful consideration, Judge Johnson said he was absolutely satisfied that the accused had full capacity and fitness to plead when he changed his plea from not guilty to guilty.
“I am absolutely satisfied that the accused knew exactly what he was doing when he entered the guilty plea. In the circumstances, I am refusing the application to vacate the guilty plea,” said the judge. The matter has gone back to December next for sentencing.