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Man charged with assault of referee asks for bail cut

reporters@samoanews.com

Chief Justice Michael Kruse, accompanied on the bench by Chief Associate Judge Logoai Siaki and Associate Judge Fa’amausili, took under advisement a motion to reduce bail for Iopu Siolo, one of the defendants charged in connection with the assault of a referee from Samoa last year.

Siolo, one of five men originally charged in the attack of Samoa referee Ponifasia Vasia, pled guilty Monday to second degree assault, which was reduced from the first degree assault charge.  Siolo, whose bail was set at $25,000 following his arrest last summer, asked the court to reduce his bail to $5,000 and allow him to be released on his own recognizance until sentencing.

The motion was filed through his lawyer Assistant Public Defender Leslie Cardin. According to the motion, as part of the plea agreement, the government recommended a probated sentence with detention limited to time served. 

In court, Ms. Cardin pointed out that sentencing for Siolo is scheduled for June 22, 2012, about six weeks from now. However, the defendant remains incarcerated in the Territorial Correctional Facility because he’s unable to post the $25,000 bail.

Ms Cardin in her motion cited article I, Section 6 of the Revised Constitution of American Samoa, which provides “[a]ll persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties except where the judicial authorities shall determine that the presumption is great that an infamous crime, which term shall include murder and rape, has been committed and that the granting of bail would constitute a danger to the community.”

She also cited a local case that set out three factors to consider, when determining whether to set bail for an infamous crime.  The Court first must determine whether the offense allegedly committed is an “infamous crime.”  Next, the court weighs the strength of the evidence against the defendant.  Finally, the court assesses the danger to the community posed by the defendant as in American Samoa Gov’t. v. Samana.

“Infamous crimes” include crimes for which one may be imprisoned for more than one year. 

According to the motion, the court must look to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which set forth four factors for a court’s determination of bail.  First, the court looks at the nature and circumstance of the crime. Next, the court considers the weight of the evidence against the defendant. Third the court reviews the financial ability of the defendant to post bail, and finally, the court considers the character of the defendant. 

In this case, the district court established bail in the amount of $25,000, but neither Mr. Siolo nor his family had the means to post bail. Under the Samana factors, defendant pled guilty to an “infamous crime” simply because it is punishable by more than one year.  However, Mr. Siolo has accepted responsibility for his actions at the rugby game, pleading guilty to a reduced charge, and now awaits sentencing. The motion states that the defendant is not likely to be a danger to the community, if he is released on bail until sentencing, because he has no prior felony criminal record, has resided in the territory for many years, is married to an American Samoan, was gainfully employed at Starkist prior to his arrest and was financially supporting his wife and three children.

According to the motion, due to Siolo’s arrest and his prolonged pretrial detention, he is indigent and he has no income or assets to post bail, nor does his extended family have the means to make the bond.  According to the motion although Siolo is a a citizen of independent Samoa, he holds valid immigration papers, which will be surrendered to the authorities should he make bail. His length of residence here and ties to the community suggest defendant is not a flight risk.

The government is recommending a probated sentence with detention, limited to time served. Given the sentencing recommendation, the defendant respectfully asked the court to reduce bail to a modest sum and allow him to post it via an assurance bond. If he is able to make bond, pending his June 22 sentencing hearing, Mr. Siolo reasonably anticipates that he will be able to resume his employment at Starkist or find another suitable job, so that he can resume supporting his family.

The Chief Justice took the motion under advisement and noted that the court has to look at the other co-defendants in this matter.  Kruse also noted that the court has to consider there is a conviction on Siolo’s case.

The other co-defendants in this matter are Pelenato Puautolu, Fuata’i Tago and Pene Wells. Puautolu also entered a plea agreement with the government on Monday and pled guilty to second degree assault which was amended from the first degree assault. Wells' case was postponed for a possible plea agreement to next week Tuesday.  Tago was released from jail on Thursday after the government moved to have Tago enter his guilty plea to a misdemeanor assault which was amended from first degree assault.

The Chief Justice rejected the government’s plea offer for Tago and questioned the government as to how Tago allegedly assaulted the referee Ponifasio Vasa to Falelua Hall which was quoted in the plea deal offer to Tago. Kruse released Tago from jail with conditions that he sign up once a week at the office of his lawyer Marcellus Tala Uiagalelei and refrain from attending any rugby organization. According to the government’s case during a rugby game match where Ponifasio Vasa was the referee and the defendants were upset with a call he made on the field, the defendants assaulted him. The referee was hospitalized for about a week while undergoing medical treatment for his injuries.



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