Man convicted of driving with a permanently suspended license will serve time
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 40-year-old man from Nu’uuli who was convicted of driving with a permanently suspended license is going to jail.
Paea Fifita, who has been in custody since his arrest on Aug. 9, 2018, unable to post a $5,000 bond, appeared in High Court this week where he was sentenced to 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), as a condition of a 5-year probation term.
Fifita was represented by Public Defender Michael White, while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey.
Fifita pled guilty to the initial charge under a plea agreement with the government. With his guilty plea, Fifita admits that on Aug. 9, 2018 he operated a motor vehicle while 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, Fifita apologized for his actions, and asked for another chance to return home to care for his family. He explained that he was driving to the market to drop off some bananas and other crops from his plantation to sell.
Defense attorney White 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.
White reminded to 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.
Garvey echoed the defense’s motion for a probated sentencing, saying the defendant has shown true remorse. She however added that a period of incarceration is appropriate for 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.
In delivering his sentence, Acting Associate Justice Elvis P. Patea told Fifita, “You took a big risk when you got behind the wheel, knowing that your driver’s license was permanently suspended by the court after you were convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol three times.”
“The only good thing in your favor, as stated by our defense attorney, is the fact that there was no alcohol or illegal drugs involved in this case, when police arrested you. Our sentence will reflect that."
The court then sentenced Fifita 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.
Fifita is not eligible for trustee status while at the TCF.