Federal drug trial of Kaisa Tai begins today
The federal trial of an American Samoa man, who was arrested in the territory two years ago and taken to Hawaii on a major drug case, is set to begin today at the federal court in Honolulu, where a co-defendant has sought to dismiss the English translation of Samoan telephone conversations used during alleged drug dealings.
The trial of Kaisa Tai, along with his co-defendants who have maintained their innocence, comes following three days of jury selection. Some 600 possible jurors were summoned during the selection process.
Kaisa Tai along with his younger brother Louis were arrested in the territory and taken to Honolulu where they were charged along with several co-defendants, while their older brother, John Tai was arrested in California and extradited to Honolulu.
Louis and John entered separate guilty pleas last year with the prosecutor, but Kaisa opted for trial. Other original co-defendants—including a handful of Samoans— also pled guilty and will be sentenced next year.
Besides Kaisa Tai, the remaining co-defendants beginning their trial today are Fouina C. Toilolo, Aloalii Tootoo, Harry Akana, Daniel Fola, and Walter Dominguez, according to court records.
In court filings, Kaisa’s defense says his client does not intend to call any witnesses during trial, but reserves the right to recall to the stand any government witnesses. Other defendants plan to call witnesses and have already submitted their lists of witnesses to the court, which has also received a witness list from prosecutors.
Prosecutors have stated that it will “take eight trial weeks to complete the presentation of its case in chief, inclusive of cross examination” according to court documents, adding that attorneys for the defendants advised that each defendant will take one day each.
Then last week, Tootoo filed a motion with the court seeking to exclude the government’s evidence of English language translations of recordings in the Samoan language.
Tootoo’s attorney Lynne E. Panagakos pointed out that the government produced in 2011 some 73 discovery CDs/DvDs containing thousands of recordings, many of which are at least in part in Samoan.
Then at a hearing early this month, the government stated that it intends to have a case agent translate the Samoan recordings and introduce transcripts, said Panagakos, adding that her client objects to this move.
According to the defense, translations of recordings in a foreign language must be done by an expert witness and cited a federal court where English language translations were admitted only after the government’s translator was qualified as an expert witness.
Additionally, the government has never disclosed its language expert’s qualifications or a written summary of his/her testimony.
Kaisa later joined in the motion to exclude the English translation of “foreign language recordings”.
On Monday this week, the government responded saying that it had provided to attorneys for all defendants in 2011 the CDs of telephone calls intercepted on two separate wiretaps on cellular telephones subscribed to by Tootoo and Toilolo. Additionally, draft transcripts of the pertinent calls and translations of the Samoan language portions of the calls were given to attorneys.
Prosecutors said Savali Sunia, a Samoan-speaking contractor retained by the Drug Enforcement Administration; by Honolulu Police Officer R. “Pena” Fitisemanu; and by Department of Homeland Security Investigation Special Agent Siave Iafeta, completed translations.
The transcripts identify the translator and show the Samoan language and the English translation, according to the government’s filings, which included Iafeta’s credentials that shows he was born, raised and educated in American Samoa.
Prosecutors argued that Tootoo has been clearly on notice for over two years that the transcripts and translations of recorded conversations were going to play a role in the prosecution, yet the defendant has not ever objected to or challenged one word of the translated transcripts.
Additionally, Iafeta’s credentials qualify him as an expert in the Samoan language according to the Prosecution.
To resolve this issue, the government suggested holding a hearing outside of the jury’s presence or a short delay in the trial to allow all sides to confer and consider whatever changes the defendants propose to the transcripts. No new information is available on the court’s decision on this matter.
Samoa News should point out that there are hundreds of thousands of pages in motions filed by both sides in this case which are public records, but there also certain motions that remain under seal by order of the court.