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Stowers gets 5 years for drug possession

Chief Justice Michael Kruse [SN file photo]
CJ says sentence reflects "commercial undertone” of case

A drug defendant convicted by a jury last year of drug possession has been sentenced to 5 years imprisonment, which Chief Justice Michael Kruse says is the minimum sentence, according to local drug laws.

Falaniko Stowers a.k.a. ‘Nicole’, identified as a fa’afafine (transgender) in court documents, appeared in High Court yesterday for sentencing after a jury found her guilty of unlawful possession of crystal methamphetamine, but not guilty of unlawful possession with intent to distribute.

Stowers, who remains in custody unable to post $10,000 surety bond since her arrest in November 2016, asked for leniency in sentencing, saying she is remorseful and she promised never to appear in court again.

She also promised to help others stay away from these types of crimes, adding that she wants to be with her family to help her mother. Stowers said she sees prison life on television and she never thought she’d end up behind bars. She added that she wants to “live a productive life” going forward.

Stowers’ attorney, Public Defender Douglas Fiaui said the defendant has spent almost 14 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility for pre-trial confinement and that under provisions of the law for which his client was convicted, there is no probation.

Fiaui requested that his client be slapped with a fine since she has served nearly 14 months in jail.

Prosecutor Woodrow Pengelly said the government agrees with the probation office report that this is a serious crime, adding that illegal drugs is a danger to the community. “The government sees no reason for leniency,” he said, and sought 5 years imprisonment without parole.

In handing down the court’s sentence, Kruse — who was assisted on the bench by Chief Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr. and Associate Judge Fa’amausili P. Pomele — first noted that a person convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance is sentenced to not less than 5 years and not more than 10 years imprisonment, and a fine of not less than $5,000 and not more than $20,000.

Kruse noted that the underlining factor in this is case is that the defendant was involved in a “commercial enterprise”.

“Because of the commercial undertone” involved, it’s the court’s opinion that imposing just a fine is not enough to comply with local drug statutes, he said, before sentencing the defendant to 5 years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.

“Those are the minimums provided by the Fono” in the law, Kruse pointed out, adding that while the sentence “may appear harsh” — the local drug statute was lifted from New York’s drug statute in the 1970s.

While New York has abandoned its statute, it is still in the local laws, he said, adding that this is something the Fono should look at.

During closing statements, Pengelly argued that the two police officers, who testified during trial, found 6 cut-up straws in the defendant’s possession when she was stopped on Nov. 28, 2016. And three of the straws sent off island tested positive for methamphetamine. (See Samoa News Dec. 11, 2017 edition for details).