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Sio Godinet released after drug case dismissed without prejudice

Sio Godinet leaving the court house Wednesday

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The case against one of the defendants from a case where police raided two homes in Pago Pago last month and allegedly found illegal drugs, was dismissed without prejudice by District Court Judge Fiti Sunia this week, after the court was unable to find probable cause and sufficient evidence to bind the case over to High Court for arraignment.

In delivering his decision, Sunia pointed out that the four criminal charges filed by the government against Sio Godinet Jr., stem from an alleged incident that occurred around April of this year, which was a controlled buy.

However, the testimony, which was presented by the government’s only witness during preliminary examination (PX), was mainly based on the incident that occurred on May 15 of this year when police officers searched the defendant’s home.

Sunia stated that these two alleged incidents happened at two separate times, and one cannot be used to substantiate the other. For this reason, the case against the defendant was dismissed.

It’s not sure at this time whether the government is going to refile their case against Godinet.

The defendant had been in custody since his arrest on May 15, unable to post a $30,000 cash bond. He was released this past Wednesday afternoon following the PX that was to determine if there was probable cause to bind the case over to the High Court.

Godinet was charged with four counts, including unlawful possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine with intent to distribute; unlawful possession of a controlled substance, methamphetamine; unlawful possession of a controlled substance, marijuana with intent to distribute, and unlawful possession of a controlled substance, marijuana, all class D felonies.

Prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn, while Acting Public Defender Ryan Anderson represented Godinet.

Lead investigator, Justin Thomsen was the only witness the government called to testify during Wednesday’s PX.

According to Thomsen, it was around February this year when a ‘confidential informant’ (CI) provided some solid information to the Vice & Narcotics Unit, regarding a home in Pago Pago, which was allegedly being used for a drug business.

According to the officer’s testimony, the alleged drug business was led by Godinet, along with another individual by the name of Merika Lomu. Lomu is one of the three co-defendants in this case.

Thomsen stated that according to the CI, there were two structures in the location, and the two-story structure, which was located at the back was the place where the alleged drug business was being conducted.

According to the witness, this CI was not only familiar with illegal drugs such as marijuana and methamphetamine, but also familiar on how these illegal drugs were packed inside small plastic baggies, and also what these drugs looked like.

One of the pieces of evidence the CI provided to police was the suspicious traffic of vehicles and people going in and out from this specific home in Pago Pago, mainly at night time.

The witness stated that this CI was among those people who allegedly bought illegal drugs such as marijuana and methamphetamine from this home. The CI also witnessed the time when money and illegal drugs were exchanged between Godinet and people who came to his home to allegedly buy drugs.

It was also revealed during the hearing that the CI overheard conversations between Godinet and other people, where the defendant stated to these people that his alleged drug business is moving in the right direction and he’s making more money from it.

Before police raided Godinet’s house last month, a controlled buy was organized by police officers around April of this year. Police officers gave the CI cash to buy drugs from Lomu. According to Thomsen, Lomu was with Godinet inside Godinet’s vehicle when the controlled buy took place.

Lomu allegedly retrieved the cash from the CI, and gave the CI a small baggie with marijuana inside. Thomsen further stated that the alleged exchange of cash and drugs was conducted inside Godinet’s vehicle while Godinet was also present.

After the controlled buy was conducted, police officers then asked the court for a search warrant for the two-story structure belonging to Godinet. The search was conducted on May 15 where police found drugs and paraphernalia inside an empty room on the first floor of the two-story structure.

Drugs found included 10 grams of marijuana, a huge amount of methamphetamine, and paraphernalia such as 4 glass pipes with methamphetamine inside, 2 glass pipes with marijuana inside, several empty small baggies, cut straws and cash.

Godinet was not found inside the room where the illegal drugs were allegedly found. He was found inside his primary home a few feet away from the two-story structure without any drugs in his possession.

Drugs allegedly found at Godinet’s two-story house were tested and were positive as marijuana and methamphetamine.

During his final submission, defense counsel told the court that the witness’ testimony was based on hearsay from the CI.

“We don’t know who the CI is,” Anderson said. “We don’t know whether the CI has any knowledge on how to identify illegal drugs, or whether he ever received training on what marijuana and methamphetamine look like.”

Anderson told the court that police never found any drugs in his client’s possession, he was not found inside the two-story structure which was the subject of the police’s search.

Judge Sunia pointed out that the hearing is to determine if there is sufficient evidence and if there is probable cause to try the defendant in court. After the court reviewed evidence of the case, Sunia said that the court was confused on how the government presented their case.

The charges against Godinet were based on the incident where a controlled buy was set up by police, but the testimony by the police officer was based on the search. He pointed out that these were two different incidents the government alluded to.

“The court will not use the evidence from the search to try and find probable cause to bind the charges from the controlled buy incident to the High Court. These are two separate incidents,” Sunia said.

“If the charges against the defendant were based on the search, the court would find probable cause to bind over the case.”

Samoa News should point out that this is the second time the government’s case against Godinet has been dismissed by Sunia after a probable cause hearing, to determine whether there is enough evidence to bind the case over to the High Court.

Despite there being a glass pipe with methamphetamine inside allegedly found inside Godinet’s vehicle during a traffic stop by detectives of the DPS Vice & Narcotics Unit on September of last year, Sunia ruled after hearing testimony from the government’s lead investigator that the court believes the reason for the traffic stop was to look for drugs, and because of that motive, police violated the rights of a citizen protected under the Constitution.