5 years for probation violation after man tests positive for meth twice
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A Fono employee who was arrested last month — on the allegation that he failed to comply with conditions of a 5-year probation sentence that was handed down by the High Court four years ago for a deadly car crash — is going to jail.
Perenise Taala, who has been in custody since his arrest last month pursuant to an arrest warrant, appeared in High Court last Friday before Acting Associate Justice Elvis P. Patea for a deposition hearing.
He was represented by Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn.
When given the opportunity to address the court, Taala apologized for his actions and begged for one more chance to prove himself. He said he’s truly remorseful for what he did and he will never do it again.
“Please Your Honor, grant me one more opportunity so I can go back home to care of my wife and children. I failed twice in complying with conditions of my probation because I was careless and stupid. I feel remorseful and I beg you for one more chance so I can turn away from my old life and be a new person. I now know that dealing with drugs is not a good choice, not only can it damage my relationship with the family, but most of all, it will make life useless,” Taala told the court.
His attorney asked the court to allow Taala to continue on with drug counseling, so they can see come changes in him.
McNeill said if his client wants to change his life, he needs more time to go through the process, like attending his counseling program and staying away from illegal drugs.
He said his client is not a bad person, but the choices he made make him look like a bad person. Not only is he married with young children, but he also has family members to care for, including his parents and siblings.
According to McNeill, his client works at the Fono as a reporter. He is an intelligent man with a good reputation in his village, family, and church.
“Something is destroying his good character, and that is: his drug addiction."
McNeill did not support the Probation Office’s recommendation in the Deposition Report. He said putting his client in jail does not prevent his drug addiction problem, and something needs to be done to cure it.
The defense attorney argued that the government's job is to make sure they have enough counseling programs or treatment plans for people who have drug problems so they can get treatment.
“My client does not deserve to go jail because of his second violation of probation. He’s a good man and he deserves another chance from the court," McNeill said.
Judge Patea asked Taala whether he completed his substance abuse counseling program which was set up by the court and Probation after he was sentenced by Associate Justice Lyle L. Richmond four years ago.
Taala said he did not.
“But you were ordered by this court to attend the program. What happened?” Patea asked. Taala said he was told by the woman at the Catholic Social Services Office not to attend the program anymore.
Patea asked Chief Probation Officer, Malcolm Polu, who was present in courtroom to confirm Taala’s story. According to Polu, Taala was ordered to attend the counseling program but CSS staff reported that Taala only attended half of the program and then he stopped attending classes.
Prosecutor Dunn asked the court to accept the recommendation from the Deposition Report to revoke the defendant’s probation and order him to serve the 5-year sentence that was suspended by the court in 2014.
Dunn said Taala deserves to be locked up for being disrespectful to the court, for failing to comply with conditions of his probation. The court gave him chances twice but he does not want to change his life.
In delivering his decision, Patea said, “According to my Associate Judges, they remember this case very well, when you appeared before this court for sentencing, and members of your family and church who attended that hearing asked this court for leniency for you, knowing very well that someone had died because of your careless actions.”
Patea continued, “You were given that leniency. You were sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 5 years; however, this court suspended the imposition of your 5-year sentence, and you were placed on probation for 5 years under the conditions that you only have to serve 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF).”
According to Patea, the court was very lenient, in that Taala was only ordered to serve 12 months of the 20-month detention period.
To fast forward what happened, Patea told Taala that in April of last year, he appeared before the court for his first violation of probation, after testing positive for meth, and he was ordered to serve the remaining 8 months of his 20-month detention.
“Today, you appear before this same court for your second probation violation, after you tested positive for methamphetamine again. What is wrong with you?” Patea asked Taala.
“You were given multiple chances but you failed to use them. The court gave you chances to change your life and be with your family; however, you continued to live your old life, and now you’re asking for another chance so you can be with your family.”
The court revoked Taala’s probation.
He now has to serve the 5-year sentence that was suspended in 2014. He will be credited for time served, which is over 20 months.
Taala was the driver of a Toyota 4runner that rammed into a utility pole in Pava’ia’i killing one of the passengers in September 2013.
In September 2014, he pled guilty to driving under the influence, causing the death of a person. Under a plea agreement with the government, two other felony charges were dismissed. He was sentenced in October 2014.