Man saved from deportation after drug conviction — wife and children are Am. Samoans
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “The only option for the court to deal with foreigners who come into American Samoa and violate territorial drug laws is to send them back to their countries, in order for our government to save local resources.”
This was the message last week from the court during the sentencing of a man, convicted of violating local drug laws. In 2012, this same man was convicted of stealing a vehicle that belonged to his best friend and sold it to another man for $2,000.
Faavae Utulaelae, a citizen of Samoa who has been in custody for over 13 months, unable to post a $10,000 bond, appeared in court last week for sentencing.
He was initially charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine and one count of unlawful possession of marijuana, both unclassified felonies that carries a jail term between 5-10 years, and a fine between $5,000- $20,000 or both; along with one count of 3rd degree assault and count of trespass, both class A misdemeanor.
But under a plea agreement with the government, accepted by the court, Utulaelae pled guilty to the amended charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a class D felony, punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine up to $5,000 or both.
Utulaelae, 45, admits that on Aug. 27, 2019, he unlawful possessed a glass pipe containing meth. Utulaelae apologized to the court, the American Samoa Government, and his family.
He requested a second chance to return home to care for his elderly mother-in-law, and also his wife and children.
“… Please give me a chance to change my life and be a better person,” he said, promising to “never deal with drugs anymore,” as well as to using the remaining days of his life wisely and “to do good things for my family and for the community.”
“I don’t want to go back to the dark days of my life. I want to go home and redeem myself,” Utulaelae told the court. Tearfully, Utulaelae told the court that his terrible decision caused him to miss his daughter’s graduation last year.
When the court asked Utulaelae what lesson he learned from prison, he said that he cannot serve two gods at one time.
“I now realized that I can’t serve my family by providing them with all the things they need while at the same time spend a lot of money to deal with drugs and alcohol,” Utulaelae told the court.
Defense attorney asked the court to uphold Probation’s recommendation for a probated sentence. He said that after spending over 13 months behind bars, Utulaelae has realized that prison is not a good place for him and he needs to move on with his life. He will also attend and complete drug counseling.
Defense attorney informed the court that Utulaelae’s immigration status is current and he was employed before he was arrested. He said his client has strong ties in the territory — not only is his wife born in American Samoa, his four young children were also born here.
If the court decided to sentence the defendant to a period of detention, defense attorney requested for a work release so that his client can be go to work to support his family. He told the court that his client has his own mechanic shop at his home in Aua and the shop is still operating, run by his two friends.
Prosecutor supported the defense’s argument, saying the government believes Utulaelae is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence, and the court will manage his probation, giving him time to change his life and address his drug problem.
When the court asked the government how the defendant can address his drug problem, the government’s attorney said that there are illegal substance abuse counseling under the supervision of the Department of Human and Social Services (DHSS) the defendant can attend.
Before the defendant’s sentence was handed down, the court recapped both sides of the facts of the case.
RECAP OF THE FACTS
According to the court, the defendant was arrested Aug. 25, 2019 when police discovered a glass pipe with small quantity of meth that had fallen from his pocket during a public peace disturbance (PPD) arrest that triggered a body search of the defendant. During the search, police further discovered a stamp sized baggie containing green leafy substance inside the defendant’s pants pocket.
On Aug. 27, 2019, Utulaelae was released from confinement — with conditions — after he posted a $3,500 bond.
Less than 4 months later on Dec. 12, 2019, Utulaelae was arrested again for PPD in Petesa, after he and another male were involved in a fight during a drinking session at his friend’s house.
It was Utulaelae’s friend who started the fight after he punched Utulaelae in the face causing him to fall down. Utulaelae stood up and punched his friend. Both men were heavily intoxicated and were arrested and taken in, to the Tafuna Police Substation for questioning.
During a body search, police discovered a glass pipe containing methamphetamine on Utulaelae’s friend. When asked by police, the friend stated it was Utulaelae who placed the glass pipe inside his pocket before the police arrived. The friend was charged for unlawful possession of meth.
Utulaelae on the other hand was convicted in District Court for PPD and sentenced to 125 days in jail.
He appeared in High Court for a Status Hearing after his initial appearance in District Court for his new case. During that hearing, the court did not revoke his release on bond; instead, it increased his bond from $2,500 to $10,000.
Utulaelae has been in custody ever since, unable to post the new bond amount. According to both parties, Utulaelae has been in custody for about 13 months.
The court stated that according to Probation, Utulaelae is a citizen of Samoa who has been in the territory for a long time. According to his defense attorney, Utulaelae came into American Samoa when he was only 6 months old.
It was then the court said that “in cases like this, the only option for the court to deal with foreigners who … violate local drug laws is to send them back to their countries … for our government to save local resources,” adding that “the court will hold off with our deportation authority for this case — at this time.”
Utulaelae was sentenced to 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Execution of the sentence was suspended, and he was placed on 5 years probation on the condition that he serve 20 months at the TCF and remain alcohol and drug free. All but 13 months of detention is stayed until further order of the court.
Utulaelae was released from custody after he was sentenced. He was ordered to pay a fine of $3,000 and attend and complete a drug counseling program.
The court reminded Utulaelae that once he violated any conditions of his probation, there will be no more discussion but to order him to depart the territory. The court also told the defendant that one of the reasons he’s not departing the territory is that fact that his wife and four children are American Samoan (nationals).