Court gives man with special work skills a big break after drug conviction
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 47-year-old man convicted of violating the local drug laws is going to jail. The court sentenced Finau Alatasi to serve 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), as a condition of his 5 years probation.
Alatasi appeared in High Court last week for sentencing.
The defendant, who has been in custody since his arrest, unable to post a $5,000 bond was initially charged with one court of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a felony punishable by not less than 5 years and not more than 10 years imprisonment, or a fine of not less than $5,000 and not more than $20,000.
However, under a plea agreement with the government, which was accepted by the Court two months ago, the defendant pled guilty to the amended lesser felony charge of unlawful drug possession.
With his guilty plea, the defendant admits that on Dec. 10, 2019 he possessed two glass pipes containing methamphetamine, and a cut up straw containing methamphetamine.
According to the police report Alatasi was a passenger in a vehicle when police pulled it over for displaying the wrong license plate. The driver of the vehicle was later identified by police as Falefitu Seu, who is a co-defendant in this matter.
When police approached the vehicle, they saw Alatasi try to reach into the back seat, in an effort to hide something from officers. Nothing was found inside the vehicle when police searched it, but when they searched Alatasi, they discovered two glass pipes containing methamphetamine and a cut up straw also containing methamphetamine inside his pant’s pocket.
When given the chance to address the court, Alatasi apologized for his action and asked the court for another chance to go back home to care for his family. He told the court that he’s truly remorseful and he will never violate the local drug laws in the future.
Speaking of the 13 months he spent in the TCF, Alatasi told the court that he now knows that staying away from his family is something that should never happen in his life. However, it was carelessness that caused him to be apart from his family. He then asked the court to grant him another chance so that he can change his life and seek gainful employment to pay his fine.
The defense attorney asked the court to adopt the recommendation by the Pre Sentence Report (PSR) and sentence his client to probation without serving further jail time.
The defense attorney stated that his client takes full responsibility for his action and he’s also truly remorseful for what he did. He also stated that his client has a prior conviction in District Court over ten years ago.
Moreover, defense attorney told the court that his client has a drug problem and there is a need to address his problem so that he can break his addiction. He said Alatasi will continue to have a drug addiction problem if nothing is done to do to address it.
The only way to address Alatasi’s drug addicted problem according to defense attorney is to give him a second chance, and allow him to attend a substance abuse counseling program, which will give him the chance to re-group himself and move forward with his life.
The prosecutor agreed with the defense attorney’s submission and asked the court to adopt the PSR recommendation and sentence the defendant to probation.
The government’s attorney said the government believes the defendant is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence, because the quantity of methamphetamine found in his possession was very small and it was for personal use.
The court asked the prosecutor what the government really wants to do to address the defendant’s drug problem. Moreover, it also wanted to know whether the government is able to provide any counseling programs to address his problem.
The government’s attorney told the court that there are counseling programs available with the Department of Human & Social Service (DHSS), which can help the defendant with his drug problem.
Moreover, the prosecutor told the court that the 13 and a half months Alatasi has already served in the TCF is good enough for his period of detention in this matter.
The court pointed out that despite the arguments from both attorneys that the quantity of drugs found in the defendant’s possession was small, 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 a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years and not more than 10 years.
“Regardless of how much is found in the defendant’s possession, unlawful possession of illegal drugs is a very serious offense in American Samoa,” the court said.
The court also pointed out that the court was struck by the PSR, which stated that this defendant has special skills that are really needed in American Samoa. According to the court, the defendant is a certified mechanic who can earn good money in the territory.
Alatasi was then sentenced to five years in jail and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine; however, the execution of the sentence was suspended and the defendant was placed on five years probation on the condition that he serves 20 months in the TCF, not possess any illegal drugs or consume any alcohol and he is subject to random drugs and alcohol testing.
The defendant was credited for time he served — 13 months — with remainder of 7 months stayed until further order of the court.
He was also banned from entering any bars, taverns or business that sells alcohol, and he is not to congregate with people who are dealing illegal drugs or consuming alcohol.
“Ala, you need to stop doing mechanic work at home but you need to go and find a job where you can get paid,” the court told the defendant.
The court’s last message to the defendant was, “If you choose to continue to smoke ice, it’s up to you, but we will make sure you will serve the suspended period of your sentence of 5 years. 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.”
According to the government, Alatasi has two convictions in District Court — in 2009 and 2015.
In 2009, he was convicted for trespassing and 3rd degree assault and was sentenced by the court to 12 months probation. Alatasi went to his neighbor’s house and assaulted a man who had beaten up his nephew.
Six years later in 2015, Alatasi was arrested and charged for misdemeanor stealing. He was placed on probation for 24 months with the condition that he serve 45 days at TCF. The underlining facts of the case was that Alatasi stole merchandise from an Asian store in Tafuna while he was working there as a security guard.