AG briefs senators on sex offender registry requirements

fili@samoanews.com
Sen. Muagututi'a: for their shameful acts, the offenders' photos should be made public

There are more than 100 sex offenders already registered under the American Samoa sex offender registry, and Sen. Muagututi’a M. Tauoa is suggesting that convicted sex offenders’ photos be made widely available to the general public, for their shameful criminal acts toward their victims, especially children.

Muagututi’a’s suggestion to Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale, was made during a Senate Judiciary & Immigration Committee hearing last Friday on an Administration bill, seeking to amend the current American Samoa Sex Offenders Registration and Notification Act.

Talauega provided background on the local statute, which was amended in 2014 to bring American Samoa in compliance with federal law - the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) - and further strengthen the nationwide network of sex offender registration and notification programs.

He said the amendment, which he fully supports, will bring American Samoa into compliance with current federal law regarding sex offender registration. According to the AG, the feds provide funds for American Samoa’s program, and without full compliance, the territory faces the possible loss of this important funding from the Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) awarded from the US Justice Department.

Talauega stressed the importance of protecting children from being victim’s of sexual assault, and that prompted quick support of the bill from some senators, who called for a much greater protection of “our young children”.

Muagututi’a, who supports the bill, said that not only should the sex offenders be required to register, their photos must be widely distributed so that the general public is fully aware of who they are, people who committed very shameful acts against children.  He said the public should be able to view the photos of these types of people  - referring to sex offenders.

Muagututi’a’s suggestion regarding the photos has been voiced over the years by members of the public, and has increased in the past several months as more and more defendants are being convicted of sexual acts against minors, some as young as 11 years old.

During the Senate hearing, committee chairman Sen. Tuiagamoa Tavai wanted to know who enforces the provision of the statute, requiring a sex offender to register.

Talauega explained that staff with the Attorney General’s Office handle the registration of sex offenders, and the staff communicates with the court, which provides updates on persons convicted of sex crimes and required to register as sex offenders.

There are currently more than 100 sex offenders who have registered under the American Samoa Sex Offender Registry (ASSOR), and photos and information about sex offenders and where they reside are all available on a webpage, Talauega said, referring to the ASSOR public website <americansamoa.nsopw.gov> in which the name of a sex offender can be searched.

Talauega said the goal of the webpage information is to let the community know where the sex offender resides, and the sex offender is required to update where they live. If the offender fails to do so, there is provision of the law which addresses such issues.

Tuiagamoa asked about sex offenders who leave the territory, such as those from neighboring Samoa.

Talauega said individuals who opt to leave the territory are required by law to contact the AG’s Office to provide their new address and contact information in the US, and the information is then updated on the webpage as well as in their records. This information is also available to those off island.

But for someone who returns to Samoa, he said, local statute does not apply there but if the person returns to American Samoa later on, that individual is required by law to contact and register again with the AG’s Office.

Under the territory’s current law, Tier II sex offenders may have their registration periods reduced to 10 years if they maintain a clean record for 10 consecutive years, but this provision is not in compliance with SORNA, according to the governor, who notes that the proposed amendment “will allow the government to continue monitoring individuals who have committed more severe sexual crimes.”

The Senate committee is expected to act soon on the measure before it's reported to the full Senate floor for a decision.

As previously reported by Samoa News, the local sex offender registry is overseen by the Attorney General’s Office, under the ASSOR Division. The purpose of the ASSOR is to track and register sex offenders who reside, attend school, or are employed in American Samoa, and to make available information to the public for their use.

The website page makes it clear that “registering information should never be used to threaten, intimidate, or harass another.” The information is also in the Samoan language, and names of sex offenders can be searched on the webpage.

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