Man convicted of marijuana possession told to renew his ID or be deported
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A man from Samoa convicted of violating local drug laws is being given a chance to renew his immigration status that had expired or he will sit in jail for 5 five years.
Finau Pulemau, who has been in custody since his arrest, unable to post a $5,000 bond appeared in Court last week for sentencing.
Pulemau was originally charged with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, marijuana, a felony punishable by not less than five or more than ten years in jail, and a fine of not less than $5,000 or more than $20,000, or both.
However, in a plea agreement with the government, accepted by the court last month, Pulemau pled guilty to the amended charge of unlawful possession of marijuana. With his guilty plea, Pulemau admits that at the beginning of this year, police found a small baggie containing marijuana leaves in his pocket.
When given the chance to address the court, the defendant apologized for his action and begged for another chance to go back home to provide for his family.
Both parties —defense and prosecution — recommended probation.
Pulemau’s defense attorney told the court that his client is a family man who works hard to provide for his wife and four young children, who are all U.S Nationals. The defense attorney further stated to the court that his client has worked as a carpenter for many years and he’s the only one providing for his family.
The attorney for the government echoed the defense attorney’s statement and requested the court to adopt the recommendation of the Probation Office.
Before the court deliberated on a decision, the court wanted to hear from the DPS Evidence Room custodian about the evidence that was seized by police officers when the defendant was initially arrested.
The evidence custodian presented the court with a sealed plastic baggie containing a small baggie with marijuana leaves inside. After reviewing the evidence, the Court then ordered the court marshal to return the evidence to the evidence room custodian.
The evidence custodian informed the court about the process for disposing of evidence from criminal cases, which include an order of the court to dispose it in the presence of the Marshal of the Court.
A recess was then called.
In delivering his decision, the court said that the defendant’s conviction stems from an incident where police officers were called to a public peace disturbance case in the Tafeta area where some men were engaged in fights and drinking. The defendant was one of the men engaging in the fights.
Police officers searched the defendant and discovered a small plastic baggie in his possession containing green marijuana leaves.
The court said that after reviewing the evidence, the court is satisfied that it was for personal use. He said that the defendant has a prior criminal record in District Court including public peace disturbance and similar offenses.
The court believes that the defendant is a family man who works hard to provide for his wife and young children. He was gainful employed in the territory and contributed to the community. Prior to the defendant’s arrest, his immigration status was valid but expired during his detention.
According to the court, it’s almost every week that the court is facing this task of sentencing individuals who violated local drug laws including the defendant. Despite the fact that the quantity of marijuana found on the defendant was for personally use, the court believes that the law the legislature passed clearly states that anybody convicted of violating local drug laws must be sentenced to 5 years imprisonment.
The court does not have the authority to consider a light sentence based on the quantity that was found during the crime.
Puelmau was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and fined $2,000.
Execution of the sentence was suspended and Pulemau was placed on probation for 5 years subject to several conditions with which he must comply, including serving 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), and he will be credited for the 3 months and 25 days he has already served while awaiting sentencing. The court deferred all but 10 months.
The defendant was also ordered to renew his immigration status before he’s released from detention, otherwise, he will remain inside TCF, until that is the case.
The court told Pulemau that he has a criminal record in District Court from a few years back, which means that he started this kind of behavior with small actions. However, he decided to enter the felony arena, which is a different game.
The court further stated to the defendant that it is due to the fact that he has a young family that the court has not ordered him to depart the territory due to his illegal immigration status.
The court told Pulemau that it’s up to him to follow the court’s order or they will have a different talk. Pulemau was also advised by the court to keep in mind that if he failed to comply with any of the court’s order, he will face severe consequences for his action.
The government’s case against Pulemau stems from an incident that happened at the beginning of January of this year when an elderly woman contacted the Tafuna Police Station (TPS) for assistance regarding several male individuals who were making unreasonable noise and yelling profanities in their neighborhood.
The defendant was arrested when police officers responded to the call and during the routine body search officers discovered a plastic baggie containing green leaves in his possession.
When asked about the illegal drugs, the defendant admitted to officers that the baggie containing marijuana leaves belonged to him. He further admitted that he was engaged in a drinking session with his friends where he was loud and yelling profanities. However, he was shocked when two police units showed up at the scene and he was immediately arrested.