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Court sends a strong message to drivers with permanently suspended licenses

American Samoa High Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 45-year-old man from Tafeta who was convicted of driving with a permanently suspended license is going to jail.

Alema Filisounu’u, who has been in custody since his arrest on Mar. 29, 2018, unable to post a $5,000 bond, appeared in High Court last week where he was sentenced to serve 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), as a condition of a 5-year probation term.

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

Flisounu’u pled guilty to driving with a permanently suspended license, under a plea agreement with the government. With his guilty plea, Filisounu’u admits that on Nov. 29, 2018 he operated a motor vehicle although his license was permanently suspended by the District Court.

He had been convicted of driving under the influence three times previously.

When given the chance to speak, Filisounu’u apologized and asked for another chance so he can return home to care for his family. He said he was driving to the market to drop off some bananas and other crops from his plantation to sell.

Filisounu’u told the court that the money he receives from selling his crops is used to buy food for his wife and five children, and also to care for his elderly mother-in-law who is 89 years old.

“Selling taro and bananas from my plantation is the only way to get money to feed my family and provide for my children’s education. Please, your honor, I’m truly remorseful and I ask for one more chance. I will never do this again,” said Filisounu’u with tears in his eyes. Filisounu’u’s wife and two of his five children were in the courtroom during sentencing

Defense attorney Anderson asked the court for a probated sentence, saying he has already advised his client to find another way to transport his crops to the market to earn money for his family if he is released from prison.

Anderson reminded the court that despite his client's conviction, it was clear from the police report that there was no alcohol or illegal drugs involved when police pulled him over.

He then asked the court to sentence his client to probation without any additional period of detention. He said Filisounu’u has spent over 9 months at the TCF.

Garvey echoed the defense motion for a probated sentencing, saying the defendant has shown true remorse. She however added that a period of incarceration is appropriate in this case, so a message is sent out to other drivers whose licenses have been suspended, that the court will not take these issues lightly.

The court told the defendant that he took a big risk when he got behind the wheel, knowing that his driver’s license was permanently suspended because he was convicted of driving under the influence three times

According to the court, the only good thing in Filisounu’u’s favor, is the fact that there was no alcohol or illegal drugs involved in this case

The court sentenced Filisounuu’ to 5 years imprisonment; however, execution of the sentence is suspended, and he is placed on probation for 5 years under certain conditions.

He is to serve 20 months at the TCF. After 12 months, which includes time served, the court will consider a motion for work release. Filisounuu is not eligible for trustee status while at the TCF.

The court reminded Filisounu’u that his privilege to drive in the territory is permanently suspended.