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Coronavirus restrictions affecting the justice system — Delayed sentencing, no TCF visitations

TCF — Territorial Correctional Facility

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Sentencing for a man convicted of unlawful possession of illegal drugs is again postponed until Tuesday next week, Mar. 31st, due to the absence of one of the members of the panel of judges.

Johnny Vou appeared before Associate Justice Fiti Sunia last week for sentencing, however, Sunia informed both parties that the court does not have a full panel. He stated that Chief Associate Judge Mamea Sala, who is one of the three Judges on the panel is not in office. He arrived last week from his off-island trip, but is currently under a 14-day quarantine for the coronavirus at the Leone Health Center.

Vou’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill told the court that his client wished to waive his right for a full panel to hear his case.

Sunia however said, “No counsel, that’s not going to happen. We need a full panel for this case, but if this one panel member is not clear after his 14-day quarantine observation, then we will have no choice but to go forward with sentencing next week.”

Vou is still in custody, unable to post his $15,000 surety bond.

Vou, along with another inmate who had also appeared before Sunia for his pretrial conference were leaving the court room, followed by a guard from the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF). At the same time, Vou’s father, who was also present in court, stood up and started to follow the inmates and the TCF guard outside of the court room; and Vou at one point stopped and turned back to his father in an attempt to communicate with him.

Sunia, with a loud voice, yelled out to the TCF guard saying, “Warden, take these inmates and leave the building. Inmates are not supposed to speak to family members.”

Sunia turned to Vou’s father and said, “Sir, sit down. You’re not allowed to talk to people who are in custody.”

Sunia then turned to the government’s attorney, Lowe, and instructed him to speak to the TCF Warden to make sure this would not happen again.

According to Sunia, when inmates appear in court for their hearings, family members use this opportunity for a second visitation. Sunia said that this type of behavior would never happen inside his courtroom, around the court house, and anywhere on this island — except at the TCF.

Samoa News should point out that currently due to the government’s current Emergency Declaration there are no visitations to TCF inmates allowed. It has been about 3 weeks since the restriction has been in place.