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Bill introduced for plea in abeyance, except for sexual offenses & DUIs

Rendering of the proposed new fono building.

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A bill allowing the prosecution and defense to agree to, and the court to approve, a plea in abeyance — to suspend the entering of a defendant’s plea and place the defendant on probation whereby at the end of which, the court may reduce the charge the defendant plead guilty to or dismiss the original charge was passed by the Senate last week.

The bill is now before the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing before its presented to the chamber for a vote.

According to the preamble of the bill, “while the criminal justice system is unforgiving and unyielding, no one is perfect on God’s green earth and people make mistakes that they pay for their whole lives.

“Despite having paid your debt to society, a criminal conviction will follow you everywhere you go and make you pay. A criminal conviction will make it difficult to find a job, apply for college, even restrict you from joining the military. After a person has served his/her sentence, he/she deserves to a second chance to ear a living and take care of his/her family or attend college.”

According to the bill, no plea may be held in abeyance in any case involving a sexual offense against a victim who is under the age of 14, or any case involving a driving under the influence violation under Section 22.0212.


The bill states that at any time after acceptance of a plea guilty or no contest but before entry of judgment of conviction and imposition of sentence, the court may, upon motion of both parties hold the plea in abeyance and not enter judgement of conviction against the defendant nor impose sentence upon the defendant within the time periods contained in local rules.

Defendant has the right to be represented by counsel at any court hearing relating to a plea abeyance agreement and shall be represented by counsel unless the defendant knowingly and intelligently waives the defendant’s right to counsel.

Before approved by the court, the plea in abeyance shall include a full, detailed recitation of the requirement and conditions agreed to by the defendant and the reason for requesting the court to hold the plea in abeyance.

A plea may not be held in abeyance for a period longer than 18 months if the plea is to any class of misdemeanor or longer than three years; if the plea is to any degree of felony or to any combination of misdemeanors and felonies.

Moreover, a plea in abeyance agreement may not be approved unless the defendant, before the court and any written agreement, knowingly and intelligently waives time for sentencing as designated in the High Court Rules.

The terms of a plea in abeyance agreement may include an order that the defendant pay a non-refundable plea in abeyance fee,  and which may not exceed in amount the maximum fine which could have been imposed upon conviction and sentencing for the same offense; an order to pay a restitution to the victims; an order to pay the costs of any remedial or rehabilitative program; or an order to comply with any other conditions which could have been imposed as conditions of probation.

A court may not hold a plea in abeyance in abeyance without the consent of both parties including the defendant, and a decision by a prosecuting attorney not to agree to a plea in abeyance in final.

If, at anytime during the term of the plea in abeyance agreement, information comes to the attention of the prosecuting attorney or the court that the defendant has violated any condition of the agreement, the court, at the request of the prosecuting attorney may issue an order requiring the defendant to appear before the court to show cause why the court should not find the terms of the agreement to have been violated and why the agreement should not be terminated.

If, following an evidentiary hearing, the court finds that the defendant has failed to substantially comply with conditions and terms of the plea in abeyance agreement, it may terminate the agreement and enter judgement of conviction and impose sentence against the defendant for the offense to which the original plea was entered.

The termination of a plea in abeyance agreement and subsequent entry of judgement of conviction and imposition of sentence shall not bar any independent prosecution arising from any offense that constituted a violation of any term or condition of an agreement whereby the original plea was placed in abeyance.