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Motion to proceed on appeal denied to inmate serving 20 years

The trial division of the High Court has denied a motion to proceed in ‘forma pauperis’ on appeal in the case of Pati Lepou, an inmate who is serving a 20 year sentence, following his conviction from a jury trial after he and three inmates escaped from the Tafuna Correctional facility in January 2010 and assaulted an ANZ bank security guard.

Forma pauperis refers to someone who is without the funds to pursue the normal costs of a lawsuit or criminal defense, and upon the court's granting of this status, the person is entitled to a waiver of normal costs and/or appointment of counsel.

In this matter, Lepou had been found guilty of three felony charges — first degree robbery, escaping from custody and first degree assault. According to the two page order, it’s within the court’s discretion to allow an appeal in forma pauperis by showing that the movant is unable to pay fees and costs or give security for such fees.

The defendant filed an affidavit in support of his motion to proceed in forma pauperis appeal, which indicated that he has no monthly income and is unable to pay for his appeal.

However, a movant’s right to appeal in forma pauperis is limited by Appellate Court Rule 24 which provides that the appeal must be taken in good faith and an appeal is not taken in good faith if it is frivolous.

The order quoted court case ASG versus Suani in 1996 where it states that whether an appeal is taken in good faith is judged by an objective standard not by the subjective sincerity of the defendant seeking appellate review of conviction.

The defendant’s basis for appeal is based primarily on the jury’s findings that reasonable doubt was not shown. However, it is the jury’s province to consider the evidence and determine whether or not reasonable doubt was shown.

“The Court is not free to set aside the jury’s verdict even if it determined that another result is more reasonable,” says the order.

The order quoted case law, ASG verses Snow in 1994 stating that the evidence must outweigh the verdict in such a manner that a miscarriage of justice has occurred. “Here, the evidence was sufficient to find against the defendant. We are accordingly satisfied that defendant’s appeal is frivolous for purposes of appellate review. For the foregoing reasons, defendant’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal is denied.”

The order was signed by Chief Justice Michael Kruse, Associate Judges Suapaia Pereira and Satele Ali’itasi Lili’o.