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Motion for acquittal in Haleck drug case is denied in High Court

[SN file photo]

A jury trial for Gerhard Otto Haleck, who is facing one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance (marijuana), in connection with a drug bust at the Post Office on Jan. 03, 2017, is ongoing this week at the High Court.

The offense is punishable by between five to ten years in jail, a fine of $5,000 up to $20,000, or both. Prosecuting the case is Christy Dunn while private attorney Marcellus Tala Uiagalelei is representing Haleck whose fate rests with a six-member jury: 2 men and 4 women.

According to the government’s case, on Jan. 3, 2017, the DPS Criminal Investigation Division (CID) was contacted for assistance by the Customs K9 supervisor after a young man came by the post office to pick up a package containing a green leafy substance that later tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

The K9 handler informed CID detectives that their dog alerted near a parcel containing 4 plastic sandwich baggies during a routine inspection and the following day, Haleck picked up the parcel which was addressed to a Gabriel Otto Haleck.

The sender's name was "Haleck" and the address was noted as Tacoma, WA.

The government claims that on the day in question, the defendant walked into the post office to claim the package and when he was asked if he was Gabriel, he said no — it was his little brother.

The defendant allegedly told Customs agents when the box was being inspected that it was his supplements.

The government alleges that when a Customs agent opened one of the bottles, which contained powder, he saw a clear plastic baggie inside the bottle. When the powder was being poured out, they found 4 plastic baggies containing a green leafy substance which was later tested positive for THC or marijuana.

When questioned by a Customs agent, the defendant allegedly admitted that the powder supplement was his, but he didn't know anything about the “weed”.

Court filings note that nearly three years earlier, on July 19, 2014, the defendant was involved in a similar case where he picked up mail that contained the same amount of marijuana from the Post Office.

Samoa News understands the defendant was not charged for the prior incident.

One of the government witnesses called to testify this week was lead investigator, Det. Johnny Paselio, who told the jury that the defendant admitted to him that the stuff inside the box belonged to him.

Paselio testified that after the illegal substance was confiscated, it tested positive results for marijuana.

After all the government witnesses testified, the defense made a motion for an acquittal, arguing that the prosecution failed to present evidence to support their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

One of the elements, Uiagalelei argued, has to do with knowledge. He said the government failed to prove that his client had any knowledge that there were illegal substances inside the package he picked up.

Uiagalelei said that after his client received a yellow card inside his mail box on the mentioned date, he went straight to the back of the Post Office to see what the yellow card was for, and that was when his client was made aware of the items in the package.

Another element the defense attorney pointed to was the government's failure to present the alleged illegal substance.

He said the prosecution failed to bring in an expert to testify on the chemical composition of the alleged marijuana, adding that the only witness the government called to testify was the lead investigator, who told jury members that the items in the box did "smell" like marijuana and "looked" like marijuana.

In her response, prosecutor Dunn said it was clear from the lead investigating officer’s testimony, that the defendant admitted to the Customs agent that the stuff inside the package belonged to him, and it was clear from the defendant's statement to the Customs agent that he already knew what was inside the package.

After hearing from both sides, Chief Justice Michael Kruse sided with the government and said the only thing the court is looking at, is sufficient evidence to take the case to the jury to decide.

After the motion for acquittal was denied, Uiagalelei proceeded to call two witnesses to the stand: his client and his sister.

According to the defendant's sister, on the day in question, when her brother took a while to check the mail, she went inside the Post Office to see what the holdup was all about. She said her brother was picking up a box, which contained miscellaneous items and a workout supplement.

The witness told jurors she saw a female Customs agent open three small packages from the box, including a bottle.

The Customs agent informed her colleague about what was inside the bottle and afterwards, they asked her brother if he knew what was inside the bottle and her brother responded, “it looks like marijuana”.

During his testimony, Haleck told the jury he had no knowledge of what was inside the box that he went to pick up that day.

The trial continues today in the High Court.