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									                                 SUPREME COURT OF VICTORIA

                                           COURT OF APPEAL



                                                                               No. 24 of 2007



THE QUEEN


v.


MINH THANH DO




                                                 ---

JUDGES:                               VINCENT and WEINBERG JJA and ROBSON AJA
WHERE HELD:                           MELBOURNE
DATE OF HEARING:                      2 October 2008
DATE OF JUDGMENT:                     10 October 2008
MEDIUM NEUTRAL CITATION:              [2008] VSCA 199




                                               ---
Criminal Law – Sentence – Trafficking in MDA – Whether sentencing judge erred in
sentencing appellant as a ‘principal’ rather than a ‘courier’ – Whether sentencing judge
erred in ruling that ‘low purity’ of drugs not a mitigating factor – Appeal dismissed

                                                 --

APPEARANCES:                      Counsel                    Solicitors

For the Crown                     Mr C Ryan SC               Mr S Ward, Acting Solicitor for
                                                             Public Prosecutions


For the Appellant                 Mr C Boyce                 Victoria Legal Aid




Court of Appeal                                                                      9603 2404
459 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, Vic 3000
                                                                                                0
VINCENT JA
WEINBERG JA
ROBSON AJA:


1               The appellant, Minh Thanh Do, was presented in the County Court on one

         count of trafficking in what was described as ‘not less than a large commercial

         quantity of MDA’. When arraigned, he pleaded not guilty to that count, but guilty to

         the lesser statutory alternative of trafficking in ‘not less than a commercial quantity

         of MDA’. He was ultimately acquitted on the more serious count and convicted on

         the lesser count.


2               MDA, sometimes known as the ‘love drug’, is an abbreviation for

         Methylenedioxamphetamine.         It is a psychedelic, hallucinogenic drug, which is

         mainly used as a ‘recreational drug’. The literature suggests that it is often bought,

         sold and used in the form of tablets purporting to contain MDMA (ecstasy). While it

         has some similarity to MDMA, it is administered in different dosages and produces

         different effects.


3               The maximum penalty for the offence to which the appellant pleaded guilty

         was 25 years’ imprisonment. The learned sentencing judge imposed a term of five

         years and six months’ imprisonment with a minimum term of three years and six

         months.


4               The appellant relies upon three grounds in support of his challenge to the

         sentence. They are in substance:

                1.      The sentencing judge erred by sentencing the appellant upon the

                        footing that he was a ‘principal’ rather than a ‘courier’;

                2.      The sentencing judge erred in determining that the low purity of the

                        tablets was not a mitigating factor; and

                3.      Both the head sentence and non-parole period were manifestly

                        excessive.

5               There was originally a fourth ground of appeal. However, that was expressly

         abandoned.


R v Do                                              2                                THE COURT
         Circumstances surrounding this offence


6               The central issue at the trial was whether the Crown could prove the requisite

         mental state for trafficking in not less than a large commercial quantity. Ultimately,

         the jury were not satisfied that it could.


7               The appellant, together with three other persons, was arrested by police while

         driving a motor vehicle. A bag containing almost 5000 MDA tablets was found in

         the boot of the car. The appellant told the police at the scene that the drugs were

         ‘mine’. He repeated that statement in his record of interview.


8               At trial, the appellant gave sworn evidence. He told the jury that he was

         merely a ‘courier’ who had been offered $3000 to deliver the drugs from Sydney to
         Melbourne. As previously indicated, he was acquitted of the count of trafficking in

         not less than a large commercial quantity.                  He was convicted of the count of

         trafficking in a commercial quantity on his plea of guilty.                        In the undisputed

         circumstances surrounding the appellant’s apprehension, his guilty plea involved an

         admission that he was ‘in possession for sale’ of the relevant drugs.1


9               On the plea, it was submitted on the appellant’s behalf that the jury’s verdict

         meant that they had accepted his evidence, and regarded him as nothing more than a

         modestly paid courier. The Crown challenged that submission. It contended that

         the acquittal meant only that the jury were not satisfied that the appellant knew that

         the drugs exceeded one kilogram, the amount necessary in the context of MDA to

         constitute a large commercial quantity.


10              It should be noted that the MDA tablets weighed a total of 1080.7 grams, just

         over the statutorily prescribed amount of one kilogram.


11              It should be further noted that a commercial quantity of MDA is not less than

         500 grams, but up to and including one kilogram.

12              The sentencing judge said that he would give effect to the jury’s verdict on the

         1      See definition of ‘traffick’ in s 70 of the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981.


R v Do                                                     3                                       THE COURT
         count involving a large commercial quantity by sentencing the appellant as though

         the weight of the drugs did not exceed one kilogram, though plainly enough it did.


13              On the plea, the Crown initially accepted that the appellant could be viewed

         as a ‘courier in a commercial setting’ of the clandestine trafficking in drugs. The

         sentencing judge made it plain that he was not necessarily prepared to accept that

         interpretation of the evidence. He said that he had reservations as to the appellant’s

         being regarded as a ‘courier’, and indicated that the evidence suggested rather that

         he should be viewed as a ‘principal’.


14              Counsel for the appellant responded by submitting that his Honour could not

         be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant was, indeed, a ‘principal’.
         He submitted that the appellant’s statement to the police at the scene (‘the drugs are

         mine’) should be understood as nothing more than the appellant’s acknowledgment

         that the passengers who were with him in his car were not involved in any way with

         the drugs. The statement should not be understood literally as an assertion by the

         appellant that the drugs were in fact his.


15              The Crown replied by modifying its original position and submitting that his

         Honour would be entitled, on the evidence, and in line with the jury’s verdict, to

         sentence the appellant upon the footing that he was, indeed, a ‘principal’.


16              In the course of the plea, counsel for the appellant argued that what he

         submitted was the ‘low purity’ of the tablets (0.2 per cent) should be treated as a

         mitigating factor.


         Ground 1


17              It was submitted before this Court that the sentencing judge could not

         properly have been satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant was a

         ‘principal’. It was further submitted that the acquittal by the jury on the count of
         trafficking not less than a large commercial quantity supported that contention. If

         the jury were not satisfied that the appellant knew the precise amount of MDA that


R v Do                                                4                           THE COURT
         he had in his possession, this was a powerful indication that he was, as he claimed,

         no more than a courier.


18              Counsel for the appellant also submitted that the sentencing judge had erred

         in treating his client’s statement at the scene as an admission against interest, capable

         of being used to support the finding that the appellant was no mere courier. It was

         submitted that all that he was saying was that his passengers were innocent of any

         wrongdoing. They had just come along for the ride.


19              In developing that submission, counsel for the appellant argued that the

         sentencing judge had set up a false dichotomy between whether the appellant was a

         ‘courier’ or whether he was a ‘principal’. Another possibility, logically available,
         was that his Honour might not be in a position to say.             He might reject the

         appellant’s evidence that he was a courier, but not be satisfied beyond reasonable

         doubt that he was a ‘principal’. Counsel submitted that had such a finding been

         made, a lesser sentence than that imposed would have been warranted.


20              It is necessary, in dealing with this ground of appeal, to pay close attention to

         the sentencing judge’s approach to this issue. His Honour noted that the Court was

         required to determine the facts upon which the appellant was to be sentenced. He

         said that the issue to be determined was whether he was satisfied beyond reasonable

         doubt that the drugs in the appellant’s possession were his, and that he was a

         principal offender, or, alternatively, whether he should be satisfied on the balance of

         probabilities that the appellant was a courier who was to be paid a relatively modest

         sum to transport the drugs.


21              The sentencing judge then turned to the evidence available regarding this

         issue. He noted that the appellant had been interviewed at the scene of the arrest,

         and that that interview had been video-recorded and tendered as an exhibit. He

         summarised what the appellant had said during the course of that initial interview
         as follows:


                   that he had been driving the car at the time of its interception;

R v Do                                             5                                THE COURT
                   that the bag containing the tablets was his;


                   that the tablets were in fact ecstasy;2


                   that he had been asked by police whether anyone else in the car had

                    handled the tablets and had replied, ‘No, they are just mine’; and


                   that he had been asked ‘How many are there’ and had replied ‘Nearly

                    4,000 something’.


22              His Honour then referred to the record of interview which had been

         conducted later that day. He noted that the appellant had acknowledged having

         said earlier ‘It’s my bag’ in answer to the question ‘Is this your bag?’.

23              The sentencing judge then turned to the appellant’s evidence given at trial.

         The appellant told the jury that a man in Sydney had asked him to deliver the tablets

         to Melbourne, that he had never touched the bag, and that when he arrived in

         Melbourne he drove to Springvale in accordance with his instructions. He said that

         in Sydney he had been told that there were about 4000 tablets in the bag. He said

         that he did not know the weight of the tablets, and that the subject of their weight

         had never crossed his mind.


24              The appellant also told the jury that the reason he had told the police that the

         tablets were his was in order to protect his friends in the car.            Under cross-

         examination, he said that he knew that the tablets were to be eventually sold. He

         refused to disclose the name of the man in Sydney who had supplied him with them,

         and he told the jury that he did not know the name of the man in Melbourne to

         whom they were to be delivered. All he had was a mobile telephone number, which

         he was by that stage unable to recall.


25              His Honour said that he had observed the appellant closely, both in giving

         evidence in-chief and under cross-examination. He rejected the submission that he

         2      He was in fact wrong in that regard. Indeed, much of the plea was conducted upon the
                footing that the MDA equated to ecstasy. Plainly, it does not.


R v Do                                              6                                THE COURT
         was bound to accept the appellant’s evidence as there was no other evidence to

         contradict it. He also rejected the submission that he would fall into error if he were

         to sentence the appellant as a ‘principal’.


26              The sentencing judge concluded that the acquittal by the jury on the more

         serious count did not mean that they had accepted the appellant’s version of events,

         or that they believed that he was nothing more than a courier. The verdict might

         simply have meant that the jury were not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the

         appellant intended to traffic in MDA in not less than a large commercial quantity.


27              His Honour considered that the correct approach to be taken regarding this

         issue was that set out by the High Court in R v Olbrich3 and by this Court in R
         v Storey.4 Applying that approach, his Honour stated that he did not accept the

         appellant as having been a witness of truth as regards his role.


28              The sentencing judge gave detailed reasons for that conclusion. He relied

         upon his own observations of the appellant. He found that the appellant had told

         the truth when first interviewed at the scene, and again in his record of interview,

         but not when he gave evidence at his trial.          He regarded that evidence as

         unconvincing and implausible.        He noted that the appellant did not offer the

         explanation that he was merely a courier until he gave evidence at the trial. He

         regarded that explanation as nothing more than an attempt on the part of the

         appellant to minimise his culpability in relation to the charge to which he had

         pleaded guilty.


29              His Honour said that he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the

         tablets belonged to the appellant and that they were in his possession purely for the

         purposes of sale. He said that he was satisfied that the appellant was not a mere

         ‘courier’ but a ‘principal’.




         3      (1999) 199 CLR 270.
         4      [1998] 1 VR 359.


R v Do                                             7                             THE COURT
30              In our view, his Honour was entitled to make these findings. He was entitled

         to regard the appellant’s initial answers to the police as truthful, and as meaning

         exactly what they said. When the appellant said that the drugs were his, he meant

         nothing more and nothing less than that. His admission to that effect was not

         intended, in the way his counsel had suggested, merely to exculpate the passengers

         in his vehicle.


31              Counsel for the appellant, as we understood his submissions, did not

         challenge his Honour’s right to find that the appellant’s evidence before the jury had

         been untruthful. He submitted, however, that it did not follow that the sentencing

         judge was entitled positively to conclude that the appellant was a ‘principal’.

32              Whatever force there may be in that submission, it seems to us to make little

         difference in the context of this case.       Once his Honour was satisfied that the

         appellant played a significantly greater role in this enterprise than that of ‘courier’,

         the description that he attributed to that role was of no real consequence.


33              It must be remembered that his Honour reasoned from a finding that the

         drugs belonged to the appellant, and that he proposed to sell them, to a conclusion

         that he was therefore a ‘principal’. He did not reason in the reverse manner. The

         label is less important than the finding that the drugs were those of the appellant.

         That finding was clearly open on the evidence, and able to be reached to the requisite

         standard.


34              Ground 1 must therefore fail.


         Ground 2


35              As indicated, this ground contends that the sentencing judge erred in rejecting

         counsel’s submission that the appellant should receive a lesser penalty because of the

         ‘low purity’ of the tablets. His Honour said in his reasons for sentence that he was
         not persuaded that this was a mitigating factor. He said that he had given counsel

         the opportunity to provide him with any authority to support the proposition for


R v Do                                             8                              THE COURT
         which he contended, but counsel had been unable to do so.


36              Before this Court, it was submitted that there were in fact a number of cases in

         support of the contention that low purity was a mitigating factor. Counsel referred to

         R v Mahasay,5 R v Zane,6 Director of Public Prosecutions v Downing7 and R v Adams.8 He

         conceded, however, that Mahasay was the only case which adverted to the matter

         directly. In the others, the matter had only been raised in passing.


37              The Crown submitted that to treat the low level of purity of a drug as a

         mitigating factor would run directly counter to the rejection by this Court in R v

         Pidoto & O’Dea9 of a harm-based system of classification of drug offences.


38              Whether, and if so to what extent, the cases upon which counsel for the
         appellant now relies in support of ground 2 survive Pidoto is a question which we

         need not consider, or resolve, in this appeal.


39              The difficulty for the appellant lies in the underlying premise of his argument.

         He asserts that 0.2 per cent purity MDA is a ‘low level’. He supports that assertion

         by referring to cases such as Adams, where the level of purity was more than 40 per

         cent. However, that ignores the fact that Adams concerned MDMA, and not MDA.


40              There was no attempt, before the sentencing judge, to adduce evidence in

         support of the assertion regarding the supposedly low level of purity of the drug.

         His Honour was left with nothing but that bald assertion, unsupported in any way,

         that this was a low level of purity, and therefore less likely to do harm. That

         submission was wholly speculative. His Honour was entitled to decline to speculate.


41              Ground 2 must also fail.



         5      (2002) 135 A Crim R 232, 234.
         6      (2001) 127 A Crim R 339, [6].
         7      [2007] VSCA 154, [12].
         8      [2007] VSCA 37, [11].
         9      (2006) 14 VR 269, [2]-[6].


R v Do                                             9                             THE COURT
         Ground 3


42             Once it is accepted that his Honour was entitled to find that the appellant was

         no mere ‘courier’, but played a more significant role in this venture, it becomes

         difficult to say that this sentence, severe though it may have been, fell outside the

         proper limits of his Honour’s sentencing discretion. The figures with which we were

         provided by the Crown indicate that a sentence of five and a half years is within the

         range of sentences typically imposed for trafficking in commercial quantities of

         drugs. It must be remembered that the quantity in this case in relation to which the

         appellant was sentenced was at the absolute upper level of a commercial quantity. It

         must also be remembered that the appellant had a substantial number of prior

         convictions. They may not have been drug related, but they were nonetheless very
         serious convictions indeed.


43             There is nothing to suggest that his Honour failed to give appropriate weight

         to such mitigating factors as were present. These were carefully identified and fully

         considered in the reasons for sentence.


44             Ground 3 must therefore fail.


         Conclusion


45             It follows that the appeal must be dismissed.




R v Do                                             10                           THE COURT

								
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