COURT REPORT: Some changes in court proceedings due to coronavirus threat
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Due to the global coronavirus threat, Chief Justice Michael Kruse issued a Memorandum reference about COURTHOUSE WEDDINGS.
Owing to the uncertainty facing our community with the global spread of the novel coronavirus, all civil wedding ceremonies before the judges of the High Court will be discontinued until further notice.
Petitions seeking waiver of the 30-day waiting period for a marriage license will continue to be received by the Clerk’s Office for Judicial determination.
In dealing with the court’s CRIMINAL CALENDAR, Kruse, during court proceedings this week ordered that only detainees scheduled for Change of Plea hearings, sentencing or facing witnesses are permitted to come to court.
He informed both prosecutors and defense attorneys that there will be no more detainees appearing for pretrial conferences. He further instructed the government’s attorney to inform the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) officials regarding the changes.
“We’re in uncertain times and it’s only guessing whether there is a virus or not. So, no more free ride to town for those inmates because the lawyers says we are still discussing resolutions,” Kruse said.
He said that he thinks the old ASTCA building behind the District Court building is ready for use by the court.
For family members of detainees who wish to come to court to support their love ones during their hearing, Kruse advised attorneys to inform the public that the court will no longer have room for them at this time.
Kruse said that the number of people who can enter the court room each hearing is limited. He further stated that he also needs input from members of the Bar Association regarding the jury trial calendar.
The 25-year-old man who was convicted of breaking into a house has been sentenced to 12 months in jail as a condition of a 5-year probation term.
Calvin Afoa, who has been in custody since he was arrested last year was originally charged with first degree burglary and resisting arrest; however, under a plea agreement with the government that was accepted by the High Court last week, Afoa pled guilty to the amended charge of second degree attempted burglary.
With his guilty plea, Afoa admits that on Dec 5, 2018, with the intent to steal and without permission, he entered his neighbor's home with a machete in hand.
While inside, the owner called out to him by name and ordered him to get out of his house before he hurt him. Afoa refused and challenged the owner to a fight while still holding the machete in his hand.
A few seconds later, Afoa changed his mind and left his neighbor’s house. The owner of the house then contacted police for assistance, and Afoa was later apprehended at a friend’s house.
Afoa appeared in High Court last week for sentencing. He was represented by Public Defender, Michael White, while Assistant Attorney General, Doug Lowe prosecuted the case.
When given the chance to address the court, Afoa apologized for what he did and asked for a second chance so he can return home and care for his family. He said he’s truly remorseful for what he did.
White asking the court for a probated sentence, saying his client is a first time offender and has taken full responsibility for his actions. Lowe echoed the defense attorney’s submission, saying the defendant is a young man who made a careless mistake.
In delivering his decision, the court noted that according to the Pre Sentence Report, Afoa admitted to the attempted burglary. The court stated that the defendant told the Probation Office that the reason he went to the house was to “get some stuff” from his friend (owner of the house’s son).
Afoa was sentenced to 5 years probation, subject to the condition that he serve 20 months in jail; however, 5 months was stayed. The defendant will be credited for time served, which is 15 months. Afoa was released from jail after he was sentenced last week and ordered to seek and retain gainful employment.
A 43-year old who has a criminal record is going to jail after being convicted of driving a motor vehicle while his license was suspended.
Konelio Panapa, who was in custody after being arrested last month for failure to appear in High Court for his preliminary examination (PX) appeared in court last week for two separate hearings. He was sentenced after being convicted for felony driving while his license was suspended, and faces a Deposition Hearing for failure to comply with conditions of his probation.
He was represented by Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill, while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Doug Lowe.
When given the chance to address the court, Panapa immediately apologized for his actions and begged for a second chance to go back home and care for his family.
He told the court that all of his life, he had depended on his mother to guide him in every step of his life, however, huge changes were seen in his life after his mother passed away a few years ago.
“Ever since my mother passed, my life has fallen apart and I don’t know why. Every time I tried my best to be a good man, unfortunately, every time I tried, I failed. I have an alcohol problem which caused problems in my life,” Panapa told the court.
He told the court that he comes from a big family in American Samoa, however, ever since he has been locked up in prison, no one ever came to visit him. He said that he’s truly remorseful for what he did and he will never offend again.
“Please your honor, I beg you to allow me one more chance so that I can prove to you that I’m a changed person. I will never break any laws nor consume alcohol, but I will be a good citizen for the rest of my life,” Panapa concluded.
His attorney did not wish to make any submission to the court on behalf of Panapa.
However, Prosecutor Lowe asked the court to sentence Panapa to the maximum imprisonment sentence. He told the court that the defendant received a lot of opportunities from the court during the past year, however, it seems that he has not learned from what he did.
Given his criminal history, Lowe told the court that the defendant is not a suitable candidate for a probated sentence.
The court told the defendant that as he was speaking and begging for a second chance, the Judges were looking at his criminal record in the court system. The defendant was told that the court is confused on what other opportunity he’s asking for, since he had been given multiple chances in previous years.
The court stated that Panapa’s criminal record started when he was convicted for a DUI in District Court, where he was placed on probation for 12 months. A few years later, he was convicted on a second DUI, where he was placed on probation for 24 months.
While he was on probation, he was convicted for other misdemeanor crimes involving alcohol in District Court. He was also given a chance when the court suspended his imprisonment term and placed him on probation for another 24 months.
Before his probation from his second DUI was completed, Panapa was arrested on his first felony charge, driving while his license was suspended. He was given another chance by the court, when he was placed on probation for 5 years.
“Now, this is your second felony driving conviction, along with a Deposition Hearing for failure to comply with conditions of your probation, and it’s clear to the court that you have not learned from all the opportunities the court gave you,” the court told the defendant.
“You stated that you’re truly remorseful and want to go back home, but the court believes that your actions prove that you’re not truly remorseful. You are remorseful because you were arrested and held in custody.”
“The court has given you so many chances but you failed to use them. You now beg for another chance. The court feels that the only place for you is in prison for a long period of time, so that you can learn a good lesson from there.”
For his sentence, Panapa was ordered to serve a period of imprisonment of 5 years, after being convicted of felony driving.
For his Deposition Hearing for failure to comply with conditions of his 5 years probation, the court revoked his probation and ordered him to serve 5 years.