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Man serves 8-1/2 months at TCF for marijuana — before he has his day in court

Just say no to marijuana graphic

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A man convicted for violating local drug laws was released from the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) last week after the court decided that the 8-1/2 months he served while awaiting the outcome of his case is sufficient for the crime he committed.

Vaalele Luti appeared in High Court last week for sentencing. Luti was initially charged with unlawful possession of marijuana. But a plea agreement with the government, accepted by the court, allowed Luti to plead guilty to a lesser, amended charge, a class D felony, punishable by up to 5 years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000 or both.

In court last week, Luti admitted that on May 22nd, 2020, he unlawful possessed marijuana.

Luti apologized to the court for his action saying that he had learned his lesson and realized that being separated from his wife and children is very hard for a person like him who worked really hard to build his family from nothing to something. He also apologized to his wife and family for his wrongdoing and asked for their forgiveness.

Defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson asked the court for a probated sentence without any additional period of detention. He told the court that his client is a first time offender and has served over 6 months in jail.

Anderson further stated to the court that his client was arrested during a domestic incident involving his wife, however, when police arrived at their house, his wife escorted police to the back of the house and showed them a marijuana plant growing in his client’s plantation. The wife told police that the marijuana plant belonged to the defendant.

Anderson told the court that his client does not own the house nor the land where the marijuana plant was located. He had nothing to do with the plant, and it was already growing there before his client and his family moved into the house.

The prosecutor echoed the defense’s submission and asked for a probated sentence for the defendant, saying that he is a suitable candidate for probation.

After reviewing facts of the case, the court sentenced Luti to a term of imprisonment of 5 years. Execution of imprisonment was suspended and the defendant was placed on probation for a period of 5 years subject to several conditions.

He shall serve 20 months at the TCF, credited for the 8-1/2 months he already served. The balance of detention was stayed until further order of court. The defendant was released forthwith and was given 90 days to seek and secure gainful employment to pay his $2,000 fine.

If he’s unable to secure employment within the 90 days, the court ordered the defendant to report back tot he TCF to serve the remaining period of detention.

The court also ordered the defendant to not consume alcohol or illegal drugs, and not congregate with people involved in consuming alcohol and illegal drugs. He’s subject to random testing to make sure he’s in compliance with the stay clean condition of probation.