Court charges two for driving with suspended licenses
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A man convicted of driving while his license was permanently suspended after three DUI convictions in District Court was released from the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) last week, after the Court decided that the time he has already served during his pretrial conference detention is enough for the crime that he committed.
Uati Leilua, who has been in custody since his arrest, appeared in Court last week for sentencing.
He was initially charged with one count of felony driving, the charge to which he also pled guilty, is a class D felony, punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both, with a mandatory period of detention of 90 days.
When given the chance to address the court, Leilua apologized for his action and immediately asked for a second chance to return home to care for his wife and children. He stated to the court that he’s the only person working to provide financial assistance for his family.
His attorney asked the court to sentence his client to a period of probation without any additional period of detention due to the 150 days Leilua had already served in TCF awaiting this matter is enough.
The prosecutor agreed and told the court that the defendant is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence.
The court stated that the circumstances of the matter arose when two police officers patrolling the Faga’alu public highway observed a minor child sitting in the passenger’s seat without wearing a seat belt.
Officers initiated a traffic stop and the driver of the vehicle was later identified as Leilua, the defendant in this matter. It was during the stop that Leilua eventually admitted that his driver’s license had been permanently suspended by the court over DUI convictions.
The court stated that Leilua’s last DUI conviction was 2006 where the court sentenced him to 24 months probation and his driver’s license was permanently suspended.
In delivering its decision, the court reminded Leilua that his license in the territory was permanently revoked — “The law means you don’t drive in the territory forever. You don’t drive for whatever reason, rush to the LBJ, to the store or whatever.”
Leilua was sentenced to 5 years probation subject to conditions that he pay a $1,000 fine, serve a period of detention of 90 days, for which he was given credit for time already served.
A 40-year-old man from Tafuna who was convicted of driving with a permanently suspended license is going to jail. Atanoa Faalemiga appeared in court last week where he was sentenced to 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), as a condition of a 5-year probation term.
Faalemiga pled guilty to the initial charge under a plea agreement with the government. He admits that on July 9, 2020 he operated a motor vehicle while his license is permanently suspended by the District Court. He had been convicted of driving under the influence three times previously.
When given the chance to speak, Faalemiga apologized and asked for another chance to return home to care for his family. He said he was driving to pick up his sick father from the LBJ Hospital when police officers pulled him over for speeding.
The defense attorney asked the court for a probated sentence, saying he has already advised his client not to drive any motor vehicle again.
He reminded the court that despite his client's conviction, it is clear from the police report that there was no alcohol or illegal drugs involved when police pulled him over.
The prosecutor echoed the defense motion for a probated sentence, saying Faalemiga has shown true remorse. She however added that a period of incarceration is appropriate, so a message is sent out to other drivers whose licenses have been suspended that the court will not take this issue lightly.
The court told Faalemiga, “The only good thing in your favor, as stated by your defense attorney, is the fact that there was no alcohol or illegal drugs involved in this case, when police arrested you. Our sentence will reflect that."
Faalemiga was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. Execution of sentence is suspended and he was placed on probation for 5 years under certain conditions. He is to serve 20 months at the TCF. After 12 months, which includes time served, the court will consider a motion for work release.
Faalemiga is not eligible for trustee status while at the TCF.