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Kruse: Failure to send evidence off island after 16 months "ridiculous"

Chief Justice Michael Kruse  [SN file photo]
Drug case will be dismissed if the gov’t isn't ready for a trial next month

Chief Justice Michael Kruse had a special message for Assistant Attorney General, Woodrow Pengelly last week — the Court will dismiss the case against Danny Mika, without prejudice, if the government cannot move forward with a jury trial next month.

Mika, who is charged with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance (marijuana), appeared before the High Court last Friday on the government’s motion to continue his jury trial that was set for this week.

When Mika’s case was called, Pengelly informed the court that they cannot move forward with a jury trial because the evidence in the case is yet to be sent off island for testing.

Kruse shook his head — and with a smile on his face — he asked the government’s attorney, “What? The evidence has not been sent off island?” Pengelly responded yes, the evidence is still in the government’s evidence room. He said he spoke to the Custodian last week, and she told him the evidence will be sent off island this week for testing. And because of that, Pengelly said the government is not ready for a trial this week.

Kruse, while raising his voice and looking at Pengelly, said the court had set the first trial date for Mika’s case, and then there was a first back-up date, followed by the second and now a third. He said the first and second back-up dates are gone, and now the government is asking for another continuance? For a third time?

Kruse told Pengelly that the court’s jury calendar is filled — up to 2020.

Pengelly tried to explain that he was not the attorney on record for Mika’s case, and the file was just transferred to him this year, and he has had to review every statement in the file so he could get a good understanding of the case. He asked the Court for one more continuance so the government can put everything together before the trial date.

“That is not the Court’s job,” Kruse replied. “You do your work while the Court is doing its job. I am going to dismiss this case without prejudice if the government can’t go forward. Sixteen months have passed and the evidence is still sitting in the evidence room? It's ridiculous!” Kruse said.

He told Pengelly that “the whole criminal calendar this morning (last Friday) has something to do with meth possession and the possession with the intent to distribute, and now you tell me the government has to wait for 16 months to send their evidence off-island?” Kruse asked.

The Chief Justice reminded Pengelly about something he suggested before — as he knows the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) does not take our territory as a priority when it comes to situations like this. He said the only way to cure this problem is to let the government have its own chemist on island to deal with testing, and this problem will no longer exist.

Kruse said he believes Western Samoa has its own chemist who can do the job, and this makes it easier for the government.

“You go figure out how to deal with this problem. Why don’t we have a forensic chemist on island who can connect to the LBJ Hospital lab so the work will be easy for your side?" Kruse asked. "I want to let you know that drugs is a real problem on this island."

Pengelly said he has been in contact with some federal agencies about the evidence, and they have promised that testing will be made a priority, if the government sends it over.

Mika, who is out on a $5,000 surety bond, is being charged with a felony punishable by an imprisonment of not less than 5 years and not more than 10 years, and/or a fine of not more than $5,000 or both.

The allegations against Mika stem from an incident that occurred last May when police allegedly found drugs and paraphernalia inside his car when he was pulled over on suspicion that he was driving under the influence of alcohol.