Kruse postpones sentencing in drug case to inquire about family background
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Chief Justice Michael Kruse has postponed to next Friday, sentencing for Paulo Paulo Jr. because he wants to know more about the defendant's family background.
Paulo Jr., who is still in custody unable to post a $5,000 surety bond, pled guilty to unlawful possession of marijuana under a plea agreement with the government. He appeared in court last Friday for sentencing.
Paulo Jr.’s attorney, Acting Public Defender Kate Hannaher asked the court to adopt the recommendation that both parties agreed to, which was contained in the plea agreement.
Moreover, she reminded the court that her client has already served a little over 8 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), and he must be credited for time served if he is ordered to serve a period of detention.
Kruse immediately intervened saying, “That would go without saying, as stated by statute. What you have to argue is the condition of departing the territory. Why we should not order him to depart our jurisdiction.”
Hannaher said Paulo Jr. was born in Samoa, but was raised in American Samoa since he was 4. “He attended school here in American Samoa where he graduated. This is his home,” she said.
She pointed out that her client’s immigration status is still valid until September this year. She asked the court to allow her client to stay in American Samoa.
According to Hannaher, Paulo Jr. is a young man who worked hard before he was arrested, and this is the first offense — on his first criminal record.
She reminded the court that when Paulo Jr. appeared for sentencing two weeks ago, before his case was continued to last Friday, a lot of his family members were present in a show of support for him.
Kruse intervened again and told Hannaher that his main concern is that, according to the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) prepared by the Probation Office, besides income from his job, the defendant supplements his family income by selling marijuana.
Hannaher explained, “What he did is not an excuse for his behavior; however, people in poverty stricken countries do this, which is poor decision making.”
Kruse laughed and told Hannaher, “He should move to California where marijuana is legal. This is American Samoa and there is no excuse for people supplementing income through farming like this.”
Kruse then turned to the audience and asked, “Is there any family member present here?” Nobody responded.
“I want to know why he has to stay here,” Kruse said.
When given the chance to address the court, Paulo Jr. apologized for what he did and asked for another chance to return home and serve his family. He said he’s truly remorseful for what happened and he will never commit a crime like this again in his life.
He said he wants to go home to serve his parents because he owes them a lot.
When Kruse asked the defense attorney if she wanted to add anything to her client's statement, Hannaher said, “We believe there is power in punishment. And we also believe there is power in mercy.”
Kruse laughed and asked, “What do you mean mercy?”
Hannaher said her client is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence, adding that time served should be the period of detention in this case.
After a brief recess, Kruse ordered that Paulo Jr.’s sentencing be continued to June 15. He then directed the Probation Office to get information on the defendant’s family background.
“The court wants to see if there is anybody involved in this matter,” Kruse said.
Paulo Jr. was arrested Sept. 22, 2017 after cops received information from StarKist Samoa employees that a man was selling drugs to cannery workers.
At the time of his arrest, police found a small bag containing 24 marijuana joints in Paulo Jr.'s possession.
During questioning, Paulo Jr. admitted to police that he had sold some marijuana joints to cannery employees.