AG charging people on what “they can prove” has lessened caseload, says PD

fili@samoanews.com

The caseload currently handled by the Public Defender’s Office has decreased compared to the past case load, and Public Defender Douglas Fiaui believes the reason for the drop in cases is that the Attorney General’s Office is charging people on what “they can prove.”

It was revealed during a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing that the caseload handled by the Fiaui’s office has gone down and Fiaui told the committee that in 2013 there were about 260 felony cases.

While the number of felony cases handed by the PD’s office in 2014 wasn’t immediately available, Fiaui told the committee that he handled 14 jury trials and “I didn’t lose any jury trials that year [2014]”, adding that the Public Defender’s Office had about 22 trials that year and “we lost some but most we won.”

“So I think... the Attorney General’s Office has changed a little bit. I think they’re been a lot more thoughtful about how they charge cases. They’re charging where they can prove as opposed to what they think the highest crime they can charge,” he said. “They’re charging what they can prove which means they’re charging a lot fewer cases.”

“I think this year, almost 60 felony cases [were] filed. The numbers are way down,” he said.

Asked by committee chairman Rep. Toeaina Faufano Autele, if the report from the investigator at the PD’s Office is shared with the person charged in a case, Fiaui said yes and that his office’s investigator, the only trained investigator in the PD Office right now, would interview witnesses and results of the investigation — or report — is presented to him or other attorneys in the PD’s Office if it is their cases.

The report is then discussed with the person charged, and if the person is in custody, “we would go out to jail together [with the investigator] to discuss my cases with my clients. We give their case a full investigation, that’s important, because a lot times, what happens is, when police investigate a case, they’ve already got a theory of who did it and about what happened.”

But, “We go into [it] with a much more open mind — just go out and collect the evidence objectively and talk to people objectively — what you see. We try to do a little bit more objective investigation, usually those are more accurate,” Fiaui said.

JUVENILE COURT

Fiaui said he spent 8 weeks this summer in juvenile court and “I think the juvenile system, the way it’s structured here, is very good.”

And while “there are some trouble kids... the system treats them the best it can,” he said and noted the juvenile court is not open to the public but the “judge [who] runs it, I can say he cares about the kids, he cares about their well-being. The judges all care about the kids.”

He recalled that “one of the judges here use to say, ‘the brain doesn’t really develop until you’re 25 years old. Before that, you have problems with decision making and think we should give those young people a little bit more chance’.”

He also reminded lawmakers that a juvenile’s record — for crimes — is sealed, in accordance with the law.

Samoa News notes that the juvenile court referred to by Fiaui is the Family, Drug and Alcohol division of the High Court.

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