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CCCAS minister pleads, walks with fine & probation

reporters@samoanews.com

Reverend Ali’ioaiga Filioali’i, of the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa, walked away from the High Court yesterday with a $1,000 fine, two years probation and six months suspension of his driver's license after being initially charged with vehicular homicide in connection with a car accident which led to the death of a 12-year old girl on September 19, 2010.

The reverend did not wish to address the court, noting through his lawyer that he rests with what he said during the pre-sentence report prepared by the Probation Office. (The pre-sentence report is a confidential document that only the court, lawyers involved and the defendant can view, it is not available to the public.)

Before handing down the sentence, Chief Justice Michael Kruse moved to accept the plea agreement in which the defendant pled no contest to the amended count of reckless driving causing bodily injury, a misdemeanor which carries a jail term of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000 or both.

Kruse said the explanation from the government for the plea deal to the defendant was that it would be hard for the government to take this case to trial.

Kruse said that some suggestions have it the victim walked onto the oncoming vehicle while other witnesses state the defendant was driving over the speed limit.

According to the plea agreement, upon the defendant’s plea of no contest to the misdemeanor charge, he admits that on or about September 19, 2010 he operated a vehicle which struck a pedestrian who sustained injuries that led to her death.

The Chief Justice noted that the defendant’s plea of no contest is treated as a guilty plea during sentencing.

Defense attorney Fiti Sunia Sunia pleaded with the court to fine his client $1,000. “My client is a responsible person who clearly understands the seriousness of the situation,” said Sunia.

Sunia added that a jail term for deterrence is not necessary for Reverend Filioali’i, given the life he lives as a church minister. Sunia told the court that a traditional ifoga was carried out and was accepted by the young girl’s family. Sunia said Reverend Filioali’i has served the community for a very long time.

The prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Cable Poag, asked the court to place the defendant on probation for two years, suspend his driving privileges and have him do community service.

According to the government’s case Reverend Filioali’i was the driver of an F-150 pick-up truck that struck the victim who was on the sidewalk with her friend, walking along the Faleniu public highway on September 19, 2010.

According to court filings, the truck was traveling at a high rate of speed, and the victim was rushed to LBJ, where she slipped into a coma and died 11 days later.

The court sentenced CCCAS Faleniu Reverend Filioali’i to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000 with execution of sentencing suspended. Instead, the reverend was placed on probation for two years under the conditions he remain a law abiding citizen, his driver’s license is suspended for six months and he must pay the $10 law enforcement fee.

Kruse was accompanied on the bench by Chief Associate Judge Logoai Siaki and Associate Judge Fa’amausili Pomele.



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