Chief Justice frustrated by sequence of prosecution in many cases
“As I said once before — the prison doesn't exactly bear out its correctional label — and sometimes these young kids come out of there, worse than before they go in,” said Chief Justice Michael Kruse when handing down sentencing for Pelasio Sootaga convicted in a July 2011 Tafuna High School burglary case.
The defendant was charged with burglary first degree; however he pled guilty to the amended count of second degree burglary which is a lesser charge. The defendant pled with the court for leniency during his apology to the court.
The defendant broke into Tafuna High School twice. This was the first case that occurred and the second burglary occurred at the same school, when the defendant had already been sentenced to six months in jail.
During sentencing for this matter Kruse noted that, on the other hand, “the trashing of high schools is becoming a recurring matter and it's just dejecting to the people who are involved with teaching our children and those of our children who want to learn are dejected when their schools are trashed by youthful humbugs like this young man”.
The Chief Justice noted to the defendant’s credit, that he was prosecuted, charged and he immediately took responsibility. “The judges are satisfied that this young man learned something from his previous experience; unfortunately, the government has dropped the ball in the sequence of prosecutions.
“Probation advises that he was complying with the conditions of probation that were imposed by his prior conviction before Justice Richmond, so we have every reason to believe that had this matter been reasonably prosecuted, in all likelihood the second would not have happened,” he said.
Kruse said So’otaga is amenable to learning a lesson from this experience. “So, we're not amenable to just simply treating this defendant as the way we normally treat recidivists, people that have come through the system, not learned, and gone through the broken system again,” he said.
The Chief Justice noted for the record, this problem with the sequence of prosecutions has nothing to do with Assistant Attorney General Kimberly Hyde, who’s the prosecutor in this case.
Kruse commended Hyde’s hard work by saying “counsel, you bring a breath of fresh air into the criminal system."
“Not only we're finding that matters have been seasonally prosecuted, probation has been very appreciative of the timeliness of the Judgment and Sentences that are coming since you've been in the office.
“Unfortunately, you are the face of the government so you get stomped on when we criticize the government, all right? But thank you for what you're doing,” said Kruse.
Kruse sentenced So’otaga for second degree burglary to seven years imprisonment and this would run concurrent to his previous sentence in the other burglary case.
Execution of sentence is suspended for a period of seven years and the defendant is placed on probation on the following conditions: he must serve 28 months in jail without any release whatsoever except for genuine medical emergency or other order of the court.
Upon serving six months, detention will be stayed for a period of one year on the condition that he immediately, with the help of the probation office, enroll in a G.E.D program. "If you have not already enrolled, and completed your G.E.D requirements within that 1 year at the American Samoa Community College, otherwise, the balance of detention will kick in automatically unless your lawyer files a motion."
The defendant was also ordered to undertake, upon release from detention, 300 hours of community service work under the supervision of the probation office and the remaining conditions of probation shall incorporate those conditions of probation that Justice Richmond has imposed, and that has to do with abstaining from alcohol and staying away from the co-defendants in this case. He was also ordered to visit the probation office regularly.
Kruse noted that the condition imposed in the previous case of $1000 fine will not be imposed. However that is why the court has imposed community service in lieu of another fine for the defendant. According to the government’s case, on July 5, 2011 THS reported to police that the main office had been broken into where $20 was taken from one of the desks inside the office and one classroom was broken into as well.
Another teacher also reported to police that his classroom was broken into, saying the items had been tampered with but not removed from the classroom.
According to the government’s case, on Sept. 8, 2011 three men apprehended for a different THS burglary were the same suspects from the July 2011 burglary. Investigating officers on Jan. 27, 2012 visited So’otaga at the TCF where he immediately blurted out that he was not the only person involved.