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reporters@samoanews.com

WOMAN CHARGED WITH ASSAULTING POLICE OFFICER

A 38-year old woman accused of assaulting a male police officer made her initial appearance before the District Court yesterday morning. Aloma Siataga of Pago Pago is facing third degree assault and public peace disturbance charges.

According to court filings, the defendant was pulled over by Police officer Pepe Mann during a routine patrol stop for non-display of a license plate yesterday afternoon. It’s alleged officer Mann observed a gray Chevy Suburban heading westbound with an unknown license plate mounted on the rear bumper, and he pulled the vehicle over in Satala.

The government claims that Officer Mann told the defendant the license plate for her vehicle was facing inwards. It’s alleged the officer asked the defendant for her driver’s license and while the officer was about to write the traffic citation, the defendant swore at him, according to court filings.

It’s alleged that when Officer Mann asked the woman if she had sworn at him the woman again swore at the officer. Court filings say when the officer told the defendant she would be placed under arrest for disturbing the public peace the defendant refused to comply and turned on the vehicle ignition. The officer then contacted the Police station in Fagatogo for assistance.

Shortly two detectives arrived at the scene and asked the defendant to come out of her vehicle, however she refused and continued to swear profanities at the police officers. Court filing states the officers pulled the defendant out from her vehicle handcuffed her and placed her in the police car.

Court filings state that while on the way to the Central Police station the defendant kicked Officer Mann in the head three times, and as a result he pulled over and again contacted the Police station for assistance. It’s alleged when Officer Mann stepped out of his vehicle a young man approached the officer and said the defendant was his sister and he could help calm her.

The officer then asked the young man (the brother of the defendant) to sit with his sister in the back of the police unit, which he agreed to, and the defendant was transported to the Police station. The police officer did not sustain injuries from the alleged assault.

ATTORNEY CALLS MANDATORY SENTENCING UNFAIR

The mandatory sentencing for the felony driving statute is “fundamentally unfair” says Assistant Public Defender Mike White. The attorney, who has been a defense lawyer for 25 years, represented Leilua Tuitele, who is currently serving a mandatory 90 days in jail after he pled guilty to a felony driving charge. Tuitele was caught driving while his driver’s license was suspended for a DUI.

The law—ASCA 22.0223— refers to driving while a person’s license is suspended, says that any person who drives a motor vehicle while his license is suspended shall be guilty of a class D felony and, upon conviction, shall be sentenced to serve at least 90 days in jail.

The Assistant Public Defender said the Fono needs to change the mandatory jail sentence to a non-mandatory sentence and leave it up to the judge for their discretion, because there are different types of situations.

“I have no trouble with the law itself, however the mandatory provision should be changed —it should be reconsidered by lawmakers,” said White.

White told Samoa News that he has in the past represented other felony driving cases; however Tuitele’s case was different because this young man was driving to get his dying mother’s hospital bed, and the law in his particular case is unfair.

He noted however if this was a case where that person was driving around drunk with a suspended driver’s license, then that person should be jailed. He added that it is very difficult to explain this particular law to members of the public that he represents, and it’s more difficult for them to understand this specific law.

The lawyer believes that the felony driving law was not thoroughly discussed before it was approved by the legislature. White said the mandatory 90 days in jail for felony driving leaves the judge with no jurisdiction and no discretion over these cases.

 “It’s been my experience talking to judges... they don’t like mandatory sentences and having a mandatory sentence... means we don’t need judges anymore”, said White.

White, who has previously practiced law in the state of Georgia, said the Fono needs to look at that law because of the many different types of situations, which come up.

Aside from being placed on three year’s probation, Tuitele as a condition must pay a fine of $1,500 and is currently serving 90 days at the Tafuna Correctional Facility. Tuitele was caught while he was driving to get his ill mother a hospital bed, at the request of his aunt. After Tuitele received a traffic citation he proceeded home and set up his mother’s bed.

A few hours later his mother died.



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