Assoc. Justice Sunia orders government to reveal witnesses in Siaumau case
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Despite strong opposition from the government attorney, Associate Justice Fiti Sunia has granted the defense’s motion and ordered the government to turn over to the defense the identity of all of their witnesses who will be called during Thomas Siaumau’s trial in two weeks. Siaumau is accused of shooting at a police vehicle in 2017.
Siaumau, who has been in custody since his arrest in December 2017, appeared in High Court yesterday morning for a hearing. He was represented by Daniel Holladay, while Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn appeared on behalf of the government.
The defense had filed a motion to compel the government to provide them the identity of all their witnesses, and to provide the results of all forensic testing, including fingerprints and DNA.
Defense counsel said they’re looking for two things: the identity of the government’s six eyewitnesses and the results of the forensic testing report.
Holladay said his client’s trial is scheduled for Feb. 25 — which is two weeks away — and they’re still waiting for the government to turn over some of the discovery.
“According to part of the discovery the government has provided to us, they have six (6) eyewitnesses, and all of them are juveniles. We don’t have their names or any information about them because they were only identified in the report by their initials,” he told the court.
Holiday said based on the information the defense has, some of these juveniles were drunk on the night of the alleged incident, and they want to make sure these juveniles can recall anything that allegedly happened that night.
“Without the names of these respective witnesses, we cannot do anything to defend our client. That’s why our defense team really needs the list of the six witnesses the government will call during trial, so we can start our own investigation into the alleged incident,” the defense counsel continued.
As for the forensic testing reports, Holladay said it's been over a year since the government filed its case against Siaumau, and the defense still hasn’t received any report or test results regarding the alleged bullets and weapons.
“It’s now two more weeks before trial and we are still waiting for the forensic testing reports. We can’t proceed with the case if we don’t have anything from the government regarding these forensic tests,” he argued.
“What do you really want? What are you looking for?” Associate Justice Fiti Sunia asked Holladay.
“I want fingerprint and DNA results that were sent off island by the government for forensic testing,” he replied.
“What has the government provided to you so far, since discovery was turned over to your side?” Sunia asked. Holladay said they have only received part of the discovery, but they want more, including the names of the witnesses and forensic test results and reports.
When Sunia asked if they had anything for the defense, Dunn said everything has been turned over, except the identity of the government’s witnesses and the forensic test results from the Hawaii Forensic Lab, because they haven’t received it yet.
Dunn argued that the government is fully aware of the defendant’s constitutional right to identify witnesses in his case; however, there have been certain criminal cases where the court has ruled that the defendant cannot access the government’s witnesses until trial day.
“The government believes that under Rule 16 of criminal procedure, we are not allowed to turn over or disclose the identities of witnesses including their names until the eve of trial,” Dunn said.
She pointed out that Chief Justice Michael Kruse has ruled twice that the defense can’t have the list of witnesses until the eve of trial.
“If that's the case, how is the defense going to investigate their case?” Sunia asked.
“Rule 16 is clear that for the safety of the government’s witnesses, their identities must not be disclosed to the defense at any time until the eve of trial,” Dunn responded.
Sunia said the court is well aware of Rule 16 but he wants to know how the defense is going to investigate its case if they don’t have the list of the government’s witnesses.
Dunn said they believe the eyewitnesses are not foreign to the defendant’s family, and perhaps the defense can start asking people around the defendant’s family and village for useful information that could help their case.
She said the government does not need to give the defense anything else, as they have already disclosed all the information regarding the forensic testing and reports.
“So now, they’re asking for information that the government doesn’t have,” Dunn told the court.
Sunia immediately interjected telling both counsels that the court does not want a crazy surprise on the day of trial, especially with the forensic test results.
Dunn said the government is not trying to stop the defense from carrying out its own investigation. She assured the court that they will share with the defense, the forensic test results once they are received from off island, but as far as the identity of the witnesses, she can’t disclose it.
Holladay fired back and said his client has been in jail without bond for over a year, and he has a right to a speedy trial which is not happening because the government refuses to reveal their witnesses.
After hearing statements from both sides, Sunia granted the defense’s motion and ordered the government to prepare a list of all their witnesses, and turn it over to the defense.
“This court is well aware of Rule 16 of criminal procedure. And it’s clear in Rule 16 that once there is discovery provided, the list of witnesses and their identities have to be turned over to the defense," he said.
A Status Hearing is scheduled for Feb. 22, 2019 to finalize everything before trial begins Monday, Feb. 25.