For those of you who have seen Breaking Bad…lower your expectations a little. Ok, a lot. The Daily Mail ran a story on 28 September 2014 entitled “The Real Breaking Bad” – and having had a look at the details, we think that’s rather over-egging the pudding.
In Breaking Bad, Walter White – an ordinary school teacher in the US – begins to build a crystal meth empire after learning he has a terminal illness. This drug operation is a little different. Switch meth for cannabis, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA for Abercraf, South Wales, and millions of dollars for…a few thousand pounds.
In mid-September 2014, Shane Cousins, a 40-year-old father of three, pleaded guilty to (presumably) cannabis cultivation. That is an offence under s.6(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 carrying a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment.
After a visit to the doctors for sinus medication, the doctor noticed a lump on Cousins’ neck:
‘The doctor said to me: “What is that lump on your neck?” Cousins said. ‘It was by my ear, on the side of my neck by my ear. On the side of my cheek basically.
‘I said I had been there twice and had been told there was nothing wrong with it. But it had grown in size.’
The Mail report that “His life had fallen apart after his operation, which left him unable to work.”
‘The lump turned out to be benign,’ he said. ‘But I had to have an operation that lasted seven or eight hours to have it removed. I still cannot feel part of my neck because it went so deep.
‘I never went back to work because I was recovering from that. At the time I had a mortgage and everything was great.’
With debts of £50,000, Cousins purchased cannabis seeds over the Internet and some equipment:
‘I paid £50 for the tents and the lights were about £50 each. It cost me about £250 in total. I borrowed that off a mate. It must have been going on for about three or four months.
The Mail reported that “Cousins was caught when a friend rang police in front of him after an argument. ‘I don’t why he did it,’ he said. ‘It was spur of the moment and he was sorry after.’ “
The police attended and were, reportedly, “overcome” by the smell of cannabis. Cousins said: ‘There must have been about three or four weeks (to go) until they were ready.’ There were 23 plants: Fifteen in the attic, two in the bedroom and six in the car.
Finally, the Mail reported that the whole ordeal had made Cousins rethink his move into the world of drug supply: ‘I would never do this again,’ he said. ‘Never, never. No way in the whole wide world. The thing is, how many other people are out there in my position, with no money and on the edge of doing something like this?
The Mail article stated that he had no idea how to sell the drugs – some pre-emptive mitigation there perhaps.
He will be sentenced on 10 October 2014.
Sentence – what will the court consider?
So, to recap, we have:
- 23 cannabis plants,
- relatively sophisticated in that there was some equipment (tents and lights but apparently no ventilation or watering system)
- an operation done for gain (to make money to pay off debts)
- a lack of experience or contacts with people with whom to sell the drugs to
First off, it appears this has remained in the Magistrates’ Court, with a maximum sentence of 6 months imprisonment. That suggests that the view expressed below is inaccurate and that we are missing some important piece of information…
The drugs guideline (page 17) is the place to start. It seems appropriate to place him in the significant role category as he is motivated by financial gain, the operation is limited in its scale and sophistication and really lacks the characteristics of a “leading role” which is usually the preserve of larger scale operations.
Sentencing for drug production offences is based on the indicative or potential output of the operation. 23 cannabis plants would place this operation into category 3 (the midpoint of which is 28 plants). It is arguable, of course, that this might be the first crop of two or three – or more – productions. Any assumption like that must be based on evidence and it is likely that Cousins will remain in category 3.
That provides a starting point of 12 months – Cousins appears to be under the impression (mentioned in the Mail article) that he will be receiving a non-custodial sentence. That would seemingly be on the basis that he is considered to have played a “lesser role”. However it may be that there is some information we are unaware of.
Anyway, let’s continue on the premise that 12 months is the starting point. Making a (generous) reduction for the fact there are fewer than 28 plants – the midpoint of category 3) and further reductions for his good character and the motivation behind his offending (to pay off debts racked up after his operation, as opposed to greed and a desire to “live the high life”), remorse, dependent family and it being an isolated incident, the sentence may well be reduced to 8 months. With full credit for pleading guilty (which we assume is that case – and there being no reduction from that credit based on the overwhelming evidence), we might expect a sentence of around 5 months.
Whether or not that could be suspended will entirely depend on the circumstances and Mr Cousins’ background, about which we know very little.
As above, it appears that Cousins has been advised that he is likely to receive a non-custodial sentence and so our view is based purely on applying the guidelines to the facts as stated in the Mail (not a sentence uttered often).
Other points of note, because Cousins’ car was being used in the commission of the offence (to store the plants), the court could make a deprivation order and take his car from him; whether they do so or not remains to be seen but we would be unsurprised if that did not happen.
We’ll return to the case when Cousins is sentenced.
EDIT: Since writing the post, a journalist who covered the story for The Brecon & Radnor Express has got in touch and kindly provided some more information (as can be seen in the comments section, below). (It seems that the Mail picked up on it from there, without crediting the Express for the story nor the link to Breaking Bad – naughty Daily Mail]
Thanks to that information, we now know:
Cousins will be sentenced at the Crown Court – so our prediction of the sentence now seems more likely.
He pleaded guilty at the first opportunity – so he will be likely to receive 1/3 discount (if the court decides not to reduce the plea credit because the evidence is “overwhelming”)
His solicitor told the court Cousins had cancer nine years ago – this is likely to feature as further mitigation.
EDIT 2: We now know the offence to which Cousins pleaded was s.4(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The same guideline and maximum sentence applies as the cultivation offence specified in the post above.