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Judge orders more jail time for drug defendant

Family in tears over decision
fili@samoanews.com

As the High Court handed down last Thursday a 20-month jail term for drug defendant Poufa Silulu, the defendant’s mother sobbed while Silulu’s very young son used his white t-shirt to slowly wipe away his own tears, in an already empty court room that was earlier packed with relatives of other defendants sentenced that day.

Prior to Silulu being sentenced, there were three other cases — including two drug cases — that ended with two inmates being released, and time served credited to their jail sentence. In the third case, the defendant was already out on bail and received a fine.

Silulu’s mother’s sobbing started when the defendant apologized to the court for his crime saying that he truly believes in his soul that he will never again commit any crime after serving the last six months in custody waiting for his case to go through the court system.

Silulu said jail is not a good place to be living for a long time and begged the court for leniency, for another chance in life so he could go home to take care of his mother and his two young sons. He then apologized to his mother for not doing his duties as a son, taking care of her.

His attorney Ruth Risch-Fuatagavi reminded the court that her client has been incarcerated for six months and he has no prior criminal record for the ten years he has lived legally in the territory. (Silulu is from Samoa). She also noted that he had a good employment record.

“He’s truly sorry for what he did,” she said and acknowledged that what Silulu did was a “serious crime” but points out that her client is not part of the big “drug culture” in the territory and that “he made a bad decision” when he came across the drugs on the day in question.

“He is a small fish... in a drug culture,” she said and sought a probative sentence. She also said that if Silulu is committed to a lengthy jail term, he may end up being a big part of the drug culture in the territory. She noted problems that have come before the court in the past, where inmates have been tested positive for drugs while being held at TCF.

“I’m optimistic he can turn himself around and be a productive member of society,” said the defense attorney.

When it was the government’s turn to make their arguments, Assistant Attorney General Cecilia Reyna told the court, “we agree to remain silent in this case.”

When arrested in June this year, Silulu told police that he had found four ziploc baggies in a bus going to Tafuna and inside each plastic baggie were 10 marijuana joints. He further  told police that he sold some of the marijuana joints for $10 each and gave others to his friends, according to court documents.

Silulu pled guilty in November to unlawful possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, a felony punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment, a fine up to $20,000, or both.

“This is a difficult one,” said Associate Justice Lyle Richmond prior to handing down sentencing. “We can’t change the fact that he committed a serious crime” in a drug culture.

He wondered whether Silulu’s statement that he found the drugs in the bus should be believable — although it may be. “Six months [in TCF] is not sufficient,” said Richmond, who was flanked on the bench by Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr.

Silulu was sentenced to five years imprisonment but that was suspended and he was placed on five years probation under the condition that he serves 20 months imprisonment, with credit for time served. That’s when Silulu’s mother sobbed more, as the defendant’s son touched the grandmother’s hand while wiping away his tears.

He was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine, which is to be paid 12 months after being released from custody. Other conditions of probation prohibit him from being involved or associated with anyone who is involved in drugs, he is subject to random testing for drugs and alcohol as well as random search of his home and property. He was also ordered to attend and complete a drug and alcohol counseling program.



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