Young man found guilty of sexual abuse given a chance
A 21-year-old man from Samoa has been sentenced to 28 months in jail for having a sexual relationship with a minor at the beginning of this year.
Peniamina Faatauvelo, was found guilty and sentenced by Chief Justice Michael Kruse in the High Court last Friday.
The 15-year-old victim knew the defendant for quite some time before the sexual relationship started. She was identified as Jane Doe in the court affidavit.
Christy Dunn was the Prosecutor while Douglas Fiaui represented the defendant, who was arrested by police in March this year. He continued to be remanded in custody for 9 months while awaiting his case to be heard in the High Court, as he was unable to post his $10,000 surety bond. He chose to not have a jury trial.
People who knew the defendant described him as a young Christian man who loved to help and support others, but Kruse ordered him to return to his home in Samoa, because the Court believes that he’s a predator, and he needs to be removed from the local community.
The defendant is a member of the Assembly of God church in Nua & Se’etaga.
During his trial, the High Court heard that the sexual relationship between the defendant and the victim started in January 2017, and continued for almost three months until the victim’s family was alerted about the relationship and finally contacted police for assistance.
According to the pre-sentence report, Fa’ataulevao, who was fresh on-island, came here to look for a better future, and it was after one year since he became a legal alien in the territory, when he ran afoul of the law.
Faataulevao was initially charged with rape, sexual assault and first degree sexual abuse — all felonies — however, under a plea agreement with the government, which was accepted by the court in October, the defendant pled guilty to first degree sexual abuse, while the remaining charges were dismissed by the Court.
Under the plea agreement, Faataulevao admitted that between January and March of this year, he had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl.
When questioned by police, Faataulevao admitted that he had a sexual relationship with the victim, but said that he didn’t know that having a sexual relationship with a minor is illegal here in American Samoa.
Before addressing the court, Faataulevao’s church pastor took to the stand and testified about the defendant’s good character, saying he was a man of God.
Rev. Tupolau Amata of the AOG church in Nua & Se’etaga explained to the court that he has known Peniamina for 3 years now, and he was a member of the church youth group and choir. Rev. Amata described Peniamina as a kind, active and most loved member of the church, who never missed any church functions.
Faataulevao, in addressing the court, apologized for his actions and asked for another opportunity to go back home and care for his family and village, and to make use of his life to serve God’s work and do everything to change his life.
He assured the Court that this will be his last time in Court, and whatever decision he receives, he would use it as a wake-up call for him. He said that spending 9 months of his life behind bars is not a good thing, and that prison is not a good place for him.
His attorney Fiaui told the Court that his client is a young man who came into American Samoa to seek a good future for him and his family, but what happened was that he put the chance he got at risk. Fiaui said that Faataulevao was a successful young man in things he did in life, but simple errors made him fail, like when he became involved in a sexual relationship with a young girl.
Fiaui tried to convince the Court to give the defendant another chance; and give his client the opportunity to continue to stay on island. Fiaui also stated that Faataulevao is still in American Samoa legally, his Immigration I.D would not expire until Mar. 2018. His fiancé is his sponsor, and he is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence.
Dunn did not oppose a probated sentence and echoed the same sentiments of the pastor — that the defendant is a man of God, who has learned his lesson.
During sentencing, Kruse said that although the Court took into account the age of the defendant, the Court is also concerned that Faataulevao, who was fresh on island, has now been convicted of a felony.
“The government has been taking care of this defendant for the last 9 months, which is something that concerns the Court because we have our Immigration laws that need to be upheld, especially the sponsor’s responsibility for bringing in people like the defendant into the territory.” Kruse said.
The CJ also noted that despite what counsels were trying to explain to the Court about the good behavior of the defendant, his Christian life, and that he’s someone who deserves to be given a second chance, it is not lost to the Court that the defendant is a “predator” — who needs to be removed from the community.
Kruse said that this is the type of youth who was surrounded by parents and village council protection and rules, but once they were away from their home and village, a lot of things change, resulting in these types of behavior.
Considering the defendant’s age, Kruse said the Court is not opposed to the recommendation that prison is not a good place for the defendant, and will make sure they will give him a sentence that would allow him to avoid spending any more days in prison.
However, Kruse also noted that Faataulevao will not be allowed to go free in the community, because of concerns for the safety of young children especially young girls.
“Although the defendant has a valid immigration status, the Court wants to make it clear that because he has been convicted of a felony, his chance to continue to live free on island will be revoke, and the Court will send him to where he came from,” the CJ said, and ordered Faataulevao to serve 28 months at TCF, as a conditions of his 7-year probation.
He will be credited for the time he has already served in prison, the balance for the period of his detention was stayed, and the defendant was ordered to depart the territory and remain outside of its borders throughout the period of his probation, which is 7 years.