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TCF prisoner’s federal petition for release waylaid by COVID-19

U.S. Federal Court House Washington D.C.
Barlow is currently serving a 24-year jail term

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Federal attorneys representing the US Secretary of Interior say the government has completed its assessment of the petition by Territorial Correctional Facility inmate, James Barlow, who is awaiting a response from American Samoa on his application for a pardon, for early release, or commutation of his sentence.

This is according to the latest Joint Status Report filed June 17th with the federal court in Washington D.C. by Barlow’s legal team and the federal attorneys representing US Secretary of Interior David L. Bernhardt.

As previously reported by Samoa News, Barlow is currently serving a 24-year jail term at TCF for a conviction in a case involving three male juveniles.

Barlow, the petitioner, last year filed a habeas corpus petition — first with the federal court in Honolulu and later transferred to the federal court in Washington D.C — challenging his detention in American Samoa.

He argued that various components of his trial in the High Court of American Samoa violated his rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The case was moved to D.C. federal court as it was the proper venue because U.S Secretary of Interior has plenary authority over the judicial system of American Samoa.

According to the latest June 17th joint status report, Barlow continued his efforts to secure his release through available territorial post-conviction processes, however, COVID-19 restrictions have continued to hamper those efforts.

The status report says air travel to the territory is set to resume July 1st, but Samoa News notes things have changed with Hawaiian Airlines flights between Honolulu and Pago Pago now suspended until July 31st.

The petitioner had hoped that the resumption of flights would have key officials — such as the TCF warden, the governor’s attorney and possibly members of the ASG Parole Board — able to return to the territory to make decisions and sign documents to effectuate a settlement in this case.

(Besides the Secretary of Interior the other respondent cited in the petition is TCF warden Tauese Va’aomala Sunia. However, Samoa News understands that TCF has a new warden — who is on island and has been on the job for at least two months.)

“Despite the continued problems with the mail due to local COVID-19 restrictions, the joint report said the petitioner’s original, notarized application for a Pardon and Commutation of Sentence to the Governor was assembled and sent US express priority mail on June 13th. And it’s currently in transit to the governor.

Additionally, petitioner had previously submitted an electronic and original request for commutation to the Governor, but it was not on the required prescribed form. And the petitioner now awaits a decision on this application and petitioner’s application for a parole remains pending. Furthermore, petitioner awaits a hearing or decision on this application.

According to the status report, electronic copies of all of the petitioner’s applications were delivered to the US Attorney representing the Secretary of the Interior, the attorney for the Governor of American Samoa, and the Office of the Attorney General of American Samoa several weeks ago.

“The petitioner has done everything he can using available territorial procedures to place his case in a posture to allow officials in American Samoa to do the right thing,” according to the petitioner’s attorneys.

For the Secretary of Interior, the status report says the government has now completed its assessment of the petition, obtained information from the prosecutor’s office in American Samoa, and would be prepared to submit a response to the petition by Aug. 3rd.

“Given Petitioner’s ongoing efforts to secure relief through other means, however, Respondent does not object to a further continuance of these proceedings,” it says.

As of yesterday, the federal court granted the joint report, for continuation to July 17th with another update joint report.