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Court advises certified mechanic to find a job that will pay him

American Samoa High Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 53-year-old man who pled guilty to felony drug possession has been sentenced to probation, with jail time.

Associate Justice Fiti Sunia sentenced Tau Ala to serve 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), as a condition of a 5-year probation term.

Ala, who has been in custody since his arrest last year, unable to post a $5,000 surety bond, was initially charged with one court of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a felony punishable by 5-10 years imprisonment, or a fine of $5,000-$20,000.

Under a plea agreement with the government, accepted by the court, Ala pled guilty to an amended lesser felony charge of unlawful drug possession.

With his guilty plea, Ala admits that on Mar. 9, 2019 he had in his possession, a glass pipe containing meth, and a stamp sized baggie containing meth residue.

According to terms of the plea agreement, Ala was a passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over by police for displaying the wrong license plate. The driver was Mareko Aleki, the co-defendant in this matter.

Nothing was found in the vehicle when police searched it, but a body search of Ala netted a glass pipe containing meth inside his pant’s pocket.

When given the chance to speak in court during sentencing, Ala apologized and asked for a chance to return home to care for his family. He said he’s truly remorseful and he’s learned a good lesson in the 5 months he’s spent in jail.

Defense attorney, Rob McNeill asked the court to adopt the recommendation in the Pre Sentence Report (PSR) and give his client probation without any additional jail time, saying Ala takes full responsibility for what he did.

According to McNeill, Ala has a prior conviction in District Court (over ten years ago) and he has drug problem that needs to be addressed. And the only way to do that, said McNeill, is to give Ala a second chance and allow him to attend a substance abuse counseling program where he can regroup and move forward.

Prosecutor Doug Lowe agreed and said Ala is a suitable candidate for probation, because the quantity of meth that was found on him was very small — for personal use.

Associate Justice Fiti Sunia wanted to know what the government wants to do to address Ala’s drug problem — whether the government can provide any counseling programs.

Lowe said there are counseling programs available at the Dept. of Human & Social Services (DHSS) that can help Ala with his drug problem.

In delivering his decision, Sunia said drug offenders appearing in court is not something new, especially drivers whose vehicles are pulled over during traffic stops, and later found to have drugs on them or in their cars.

Despite arguments from both attorneys that the quantity of drugs found on Ala was small, Sunia pointed out that according to the statute that was passed by the Fono, a person convicted of unlawful possession of illegal drugs of any quantity can be sentenced to imprisonment between 5-10 years.

“Regardless of how much drugs were found on the defendant’s possession, unlawful possession of illegal drugs is a very serious offense in American Samoa,” Sunia emphasized.

He said the court was struck by the PSR, which noted that Ala has special skills that are really needed in the territory. Ala is a certified mechanic who can do specialized work on vessels.

Ala was sentenced to 5 years in jail and a $2,000 fine. Execution of the sentence is suspended and Ala is placed on 5 years probation on the condition that he serve 20 months at the TCF, and remain alcohol and drug free.

Under the court’s order, Ala will only serve 7 months of his detention period — including the 5 months he has already served in pretrial confinement.

The remaining 13 months is stayed until further order of the court.

Ala is banned from entering any bars, taverns, or businesses that sell alcohol, and he is not to congregate with people who are doing drugs or consuming alcohol.

“Ala, you need to stop doing work at home and find a job where you can get paid,” Sunia told the defendant. “There’s a boat that keeps going to Manu’a that keeps breaking down. Go there, maybe they need someone like you.”

Sunia’s last words to the defendant: “If you choose to continue to smoke ice, it’s up to you; but we will make sure you serve the suspended period of your 5-year sentence. However, if you choose to abide with these orders, we may choose to reduce the period of your probation. So, the choice is now yours.”