Repeat drug offender is sentenced to jail time
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — One of the three men arrested last year after police discovered 8g of a white crystalline substance and drug paraphernalia inside a truck is going to jail.
Pio Atonio, who has been in custody since his arrest, unable to post a $5,000 surety bond, appeared in High Court last week for a disposition hearing and sentencing.
Associate Justice Fiti Sunia ordered him to serve 12 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF).
Atonio, 45, was represented by Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill, while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn.
Atonio was initially charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a class D felony. But under a plea agreement with the government, which was accepted by the court, Atonio pled guilty to a lesser amended charge, a class D felony punishable by up to 5 years in jail, a fine of up to $5,000 or both.
When given a chance to speak, Atonio apologized to the court, the American Samoa Government, and also his family and village for his actions, and asked for another chance to return home to care for his family.
He told the judge that if given another chance, he will be a changed man and will comply with all the laws of the territory. "I know what I did was wrong, but I assure you that I am truly remorseful and want to go back home to be with my family,” Atonio said.
McNeill asked the court to adopt the recommendation of the Probation Office, to place his client on probation for 5 years without serving any additional period of detention.
He said he read the pre-sentence report and agrees with Probation, that this is his client's second conviction for unlawful possession of drugs. He asked the court to order his client to attend substance abuse counseling, to help him with his addiction.
“Atonio is a talented man who is willing to change his life. He has an issue with drug addiction and I told him that if he continues to live like this, he will waste many years of his life at TCF,” McNeill told the court.
Prosecutor Dunn echoed McNeill’s statement and agreed to a probated sentence, saying the defendant needs to attend illegal substance abuse counseling to address his addiction problem.
“He was on probation when police arrested him last year. The government agrees that this defendant has a drug addiction problem and we ask the court to give him another chance to address it, and to seek employment to pay any fine if the court imposes a fine in this case,” Dunn said.
Sunia wanted to know if there is any substance abuse counseling available inside the TCF. Dunn said no, the programs are only offered by the government and some private entities outside of TCF.
Sunia asked whether Atonio was ordered to attend any substance abuse counseling when he was placed on probation in his previous case. Dunn said one of the conditions of probation was to attend and complete counseling, however, that was not done.
For his previous case, the court did not revoke Atonio’s probation. But for his new case, he was sentenced to 12 months at TCF, with credit for the 9 1/2 months he has already served.
Sunia told Atonio that the “best counseling for you to cure your meth problem is your own home. If you wish to stop going to prison, change your life and stop doing drugs; but if you wish to go back to prison, continue with your drug problem.”
Sunia concluded, “You’re asking the court to give you another chance to change your life and be with your family. The court is giving you that one opportunity and if you fail, the court will never give you any more chances in the future. So, stop coming to court and stop doing drugs.”
When police conducted a body search on Atonio on the night of May 17, 2018, they discovered a glass pipe containing a white crystalline substance in his possession.
After he was arrested, Atonio told police in a verbal and written statement that the glass pipe did not belong to him. He said he was just a passenger in the truck that was pulled over that night for an expired license plate.