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Disposition hearing for Tago Jr continued — Kruse asks, can you be jailed for not paying a fine?

Chief Justice Michael Kruse
Court wants to understand the difference between "debts" and "fines"

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Questions about the differences between 'debts' and 'fines' have led to the continuance of a disposition hearing for Sui Tago Jr. in High Court.

Tago Jr. appeared before Chief Justice Michael Kruse last Friday.

During court proceedings, Kruse wanted attorneys from both sides to advise the court on how to deal with someone who is unable to pay a fine imposed by the court.

The 40-year-old defendant, one of three men arrested after armed detectives of the DPS Vice & Narcotics Unit executed two search warrants in June 2018, is serving a 5-year sentence at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) in Tafuna, after he was convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; methamphetamine.

The conviction came while Tago Jr was serving a 14-year probation term handed down in 2009 for conspiracy to commit burglary and receiving stolen property, both class C felonies.

Tago Jr is represented by Public Defender Michael White, while prosecuting the government’s case is Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn.

When the case was called last Friday, Kruse noted that it was a continuance from last month, because the court wanted to understand whether a person can go to jail if he/ she fails to pay the fine. He also wanted to know whether a fine can be described as 'debts' under criminal justice.

Prosecutor Dunn cited to the court previous cases involving the issue of debts and fines, and said a person can be imprisoned for not paying their debts.

“Tago Jr’s case is about a fine not being paid. How can the government relate his fine to the term 'debts'?”Kruse asked Dunn. The prosecutor told the court that debts incur when someone is unable to pay what he or she owes. She also read aloud in court the meaning of 'debts' in the dictionary.

Still, Kruse was not satisfied.

He told the government attorney that the court still wants to know what "debts" really mean.

“If you’re a poor person, and you cannot afford to pay your fine, you can go to jail; but if you’re a rich person, and you can afford to pay your fine, you don’t need to go to jail?” Kruse asked.

Tago Jr’s case is continued to Wednesday.


For his 2009 convictions, Tago Jr was sentenced to 28 months detention for each count (56 months total) as a condition of a 14-year probation term, which ends in 2023.

His most recent conviction came after police found a baggie containing meth in his front right pocket during a body search last June, when he and two other men were in a truck while police were executing a search warrant.