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Sunia reminds public defenders once again to make translators available to their clients

Associate Justice Fiti Sunia

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A woman accused of violating local drug laws has entered into a plea agreement with the government. Although the court was having a difficult time finding out if the defendant understood the different between “guilty” and “not guilty”, the defendant, Siapu Lameta Agae admitted to the court that she violated local drug laws.

Agae, who have been in custody since her arrest last year, unable to post a $5,000 surety bond appeared in High Court this week for her Change of Plea hearing. She was represented by Assistant Public Defender, Rob McNeill while prosecuting the case is Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey.

Agae was initially charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a felony, punishable by imprisonment of 5-10 years, a fine of $5,000-$20,000, or both.

However, in a plea agreement with the government, accepted by the court, Agae pled guilty to the amended charged of unlawful possession of methamphetamine. With her guilty plea, she admits that on Nov. 30th, 2019 she unlawfully possessed a small stamp-sized baggie containing methamphetamine.

It was during the change of plea proceeding that the court rejected Agae’s plea agreement with the government after she answered “not guilty” when the court asked her about her plea to the charge against her.

Immediately after Associate Justice Fiti Sunia rejected the plea agreement, defense attorney McNeill told the court that maybe his client does not understand what “not guilty” really means.

When Sunia asked Agae if she understands what the words “not guilty” means, the defendant replied, “no”.

Sunia rephrased the court’s questions for the defendant and asked her about her answer to the charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine. Guilty or not guilty. Agae replied, “guilty”.

Sunia asked Agae if she admits that on Nov. 30th, 2019, she possessed a small stamp-sized baggie containing methamphetamine. Agae replied, “yes”.

The court accepted the defendant’s plea and she will appear again in court for sentencing on July 15th.

The court also advised the defense attorney that there must be someone from their office (Public Defender’s office) to help translate court proceedings for their clients because some of them have problems when communicating with him in English.


The government claimed that Agae was a passenger inside a vehicle that was pulled over by police on the early morning of Nov. 30, 2019 in the Iliili area with no license plate light. Agae and the male driver of the vehicle were both transported to the Tafuna Police Station for questioning.

Anae told a police officer that she had two ‘guns’ inside her bag. For safety reasons, Anae was asked to hand the bag over. The police opened the bag and found two glass pipes containing methamphetamine inside. (Street parlance uses the word ‘gun’ or ‘faga’ to identify a glass pipe used to smoke ‘aisa’.)

When asked about the glass pipes, Anae told police it was a gift from a friend who told her not to reveal his identity to anybody, including police, if anybody questioned her about the drugs.

Anae further stated that she started using drugs a few months ago when her boyfriend gave her a glass pipe to smoke during a birthday party at the home of one of their best friends in Iliili. It was at that birthday party where she met a person who later supplied her with meth, including the two glass pipes found in her bag.