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Public Defender suggests Fono limit alcohol content in imported beer to help curb crime

fili@samoanews.com

As the number of alcohol related cases increases in the territory, Public Defender Ruth Risch-Fuatagavi called on the Legislature to look at local alcohol import policy, dealing with the alcohol content of imported beer.

Her request was made during her office’s fiscal year 2013 budget hearing last week, where she told the Fono joint budget hearing the new fiscal year budget for the Public Defender's Office has increased a little, compared to the current fiscal year, to $475,000.

And similar to the previous fiscal year, most of the budget is allocated to personnel costs, including attorneys and support staff, she said and pointed out there is an increase in equipment expenditure due mainly to the need for a new vehicle for the office, which currently has a fleet of cars that are ten years and older. Additionally the PD’s Office computers are “extremely old” and  “we've had to make do with it.”

Responding to questions about the office’s current size of their case load, she said the case load has risen slightly and “I think the rise is due mostly to juvenile cases.” She also says a majority of the PD Office cases go through the District Court and that misdemeanor and DUI cases are mostly borne by the PD Office.

Her budget proposal, as in the past, also included projected case output for the new fiscal year.

According to the budget book, projection for 2013 has felony criminal cases at 325; misdemeanor cases at 900; traffic cases — including DUI - at 350; juvenile cases at 350 and others - including civil commitment, probation, etc — at 1,300.

Compared to projections for FY 2012, the  PD office projected 300 for felony criminal; 800 in misdemeanor; traffic with 400; juveniles at 350; and 800 for Other Matters, according to the budget book.

Risch-Fuatagavi said it's hard to estimate criminal case load for FY 2013 and data in the ‘output measures” are only estimations based on the current trends with their case load.

She expects that the “felony criminal cases will probably increase a bit “and “my reason for that is not that I see a gigantic crime spree across the island, but the attorney general’s office seems to be hiring more criminal prosecutors.”

Risch-Fuatagavi noted that traffic cases seem to be on the decline and she suspects this indue to preventative enforcements carried out by Department of Public Safety. “I expect the misdemeanors to increase a little bit, because the alcohol situation… on our island doesn’t seem to be diminishing... and most of our misdemeanor cases are alcohol related,” she said.

“Likewise, I see the juvenile cases pretty much holding steady. We had a huge jump, about 18 months ago and that was because of the change in the code for juvenile justice and that has increased the enforcement. Most of that jump was in probation; we seem to have more clients who are on probation,” she said.

On the civil commitment side, that has held pretty steady, she added.

At the conclusion of the hearing, she requested that the Fono “look at our alcohol import policy. At current we have several beers imported into the territory that have very high… alcohol content.

“There are other jurisdictions that limit the amount of alcohol content in beer sold within their area. And I believe that if we would adopt similar statutes, we could reduce a lot of the alcohol related criminal cases that we have,” Risch-Fuatagavi said.



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