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"American Samoa is not a Flea Market where people can come and go whenever they want" — Sunia

District Court Judge Fiti Sunia
"It doesn’t work that way,”

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — American Samoa is not a Flea Market was the message from District Court Judge Fiti Sunia in dealing with the case of a man who has had a 4-year-old bench warrant since 2014, for failure to comply with conditions of his probation.

Fa’amanatu Tugaga showed up in District Court Wednesday morning to pick up a clearance from the court; however, he was served by the court marshal with a copy of a bench warrant that was issued by Judge Elvis P. Patea in 2014 — for failure to comply with conditions of his 12-month probation.

Tugaga was then escorted to the courtroom on the same morning for a speedy hearing on an Order to Show Cause (OSC).

He was represented by Assistant Public Defender, Ryan Anderson while prosecuting  was Assistant Attorney General, Laura Garvey.

According to the information that was presented to the court during Tugaga’s OSC hearing, he had just arrived from Samoa on Monday, and he was at the District Court to pick up a court clearance.

“Where was your client?” Sunia asked Anderson who replied that his client had been in Apia taking care of his mother. He arrived back in the territory a few days ago before coming to the court to pick up a clearance.

Sunia told Anderson that his client was on probation for 12 months, and one of the conditions is that he not leave or attempt to leave the territory unless through an official order of the court.

According to Sunia, Tugaga was placed on probation after being convicted of public peace disturbance. While on probation, the court ordered that he remain drug and alcohol free, and submit himself to random testing.

In July 2014, Tugaga was instructed by the Probation Office to provide a urine test sample; however, the defendant never did, but instead, disappeared and never came back to the Probation Office. District Court Judge Patea at the time issued a bench warrant for Tugaga.

“So now, four years later, your client is now appearing in court, and the court deserves an explanation on where he's been the past four years,” Sunia told Anderson.

Again, Anderson told the court that his client was in Apia caring for his mother, and he’s now back in the territory. He also told the court he believes there was a misunderstanding between his client and the Probation Office regarding his case.

“What was the court clearance for?” Sunia asked Anderson.

Anderson spoke to his client before he told the court that the clearance was to renew his client’s immigration status.

Sunia smiled and asked Anderson what immigration status he is referring to.

“Is your client going to renew his old immigration ID which expired 4 years ago, or is he going to have a new immigration ID?” Sunia asked.

Anderson said it was for an immigration ID.

He then asked the court to quash the bench warrant and release his client on his own recognizance to await his next court appearance.

Sunia did not agree, pointing out that the defendant was on probation but left the territory without an order from the court, which is a clear violation of conditions of his probation.

Anderson responded that his client was not aware of that particular condition — that he couldn’t leave the territory without permission from the court.

While Anderson was trying to convince the court that it was a misunderstanding between his client and the Probation Office, Sunia cut him off and said, “No, no, no. I’m not going to argue with you.”

Sunia then continued Tugaga’s OSC hearing to the next day. He also ordered the defendant be remanded into custody without bail.

Tugaga did appear in court Thursday, and the court had received new information from the Immigration Office when Tugaga’s case was called.

According to a report from the IO, there is no record on file at their office to prove the defendant entered the territory on an entry permit a few days ago nor does he have an immigration identification card.

Without going through another long discussion on Tugaga’s case, Sunia immediately ordered that the defendant’s case be continued until Oct. 5, 2018, and he is remanded back to custody without bail to await his October appearance.