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PD: “… sad cases” of kids breaking into stores, because there is “nothing to eat”

Public Defender Douglas Fiaui. [SN file photo]

Sen. Fonoti Tafa’ifa Aufata strongly recommends that the Public Defender’s Office encourage parents to get involved when their children are charged in the criminal justice system, while Public Defender Douglas Fiaui shared with senators what he says are “sad cases” of kids breaking into stores, because there is “nothing to eat”.

The Tualauta senator gave the advice during a recent Senate confirmation for Fiaui for another term as Public Defender, overseeing the Office of Public Defender, which represents not only adults but juveniles in the criminal justice system. The Fono has since officially confirmed him.

During the nearly one hour hearing, Fonoti asked about the number of cases handled by the PD’s Office that involved students. Fiaui said that last year his office handled around 150 juvenile cases, which “is actually a reduction” in the number of cases from previous years.

“We had as many as 220 [cases],” he said to which Fonoti sought additional information as to the nature of the cases, or the problems on why these students ended up getting charged and represented by the PD’s Office.

Fiaui responded that “about half or more of our cases are fighting in school”, although there are some cases where there are “serious offenses” such as burglary, “and in some cases it relates to the problem with narcotics — drugs. We’ve seen that in several instances and last year about a dozen cases.”

The PD’s Office has also seen youth cases involving property crime “related to neglect and poverty — kids who are breaking into stores because there’s nothing to eat — those kinds of things and we see that occasionally. And those are the sad cases.”

“But by large, many cases related to inter school fighting,” Fiaui said at least three times, during questioning from Fonoti, who then asked if the Public Defender gives any advice to parents, who come to the PD’s Office about their children’s cases.

“Sure we advise them,” was Fiaui’s reply, “but it could be difficult for some of these parents. They have a very difficult time supervising their children and sometimes they have many children, [and] sometimes one parent is missing.”

“We do our best to involve the parents and the court does as well. We’re not the only piece of the puzzle. The court will have the parents supervise their children,” Fiaui said.

Fonoti told Fiaui, “my advice to you, involve the parents, it’s their responsibility, and advise them to go to the church.”

Samoa News notes that all juvenile cases are closed to the public when the case goes to court.

Another question from the committee dealt with attorneys who are hired for the PD’’s Office and Fiaui said their attorneys are recruited from off island and in the last four years, during his tenure as Public Defender, they’ve only hired four attorneys — handling both adult and juvenile cases — along with himself.

“Generally, the attorneys from off island working in my office, stay for the duration of their two-year contract,” he explained. Fiaui also said that some attorneys have renewed their contracts and the PD’s Office most senior attorney has been here for 7 years.

And another attorney, who recently left the territory, had been here for five years, he said adding that it’s not often that his office brings in new attorneys.

Currently there are only four attorneys in the PD’s Office, not including Fiaui, who served as legal counsel in the Governor’s Office during the Togiola Administration.