Court denies appeal to overturn sentence of convicted rapist
The Appellate Division of the High Court has denied Larry Samatua’s appeal of his conviction and jail term of a 30- year sentence after he was convicted two years ago on two counts of raping his wife’s 15- year old niece.
The niece was allegedly later raped by her biological father after being told by the victim of what Samatua did to her.
The ruling affirms Samatua’s convictions and sentence and was signed by Associate Justice Lyle L Richmond, Acting Associate Justice Elvis Pila Patea, Associate Judges Satele Ali’itai Lili’o and Fa’amausili Pomele.
Samatua’s appeal argues violation of his due process rights, being deprived of his right to a fair trial, violation of his sixth amendment rights and abuse of court’s discretion when it imposed two consecutive sentences.
In the violation of his due process rights, Samatua contents the trial court abused its discretion when it permitted the government to amend information in a time period that was too broad, not allowing him a chance to present a meaningful defense.
In its ruling, the Appellate court said the lower court may permit information to be amended at any time before verdict finding if no additional or different offense is charged and if substantial rights of the defendant are prejudiced.
The trial court’s failure to prevent inflammatory statements by the government during closing argument was plain error, Samatua argues, saying he was deprived of his right to a fair trial by improper prosecutorial comments comparing him to an animal, repeatedly highlighting acts of the victim’s father and directly accusing Samatua of being the catalyst that instigated those acts.
However, the Appellate said that while analogizing Samatua to a wolf preying on the victim can hardly be considered prejudicial such that it rises to the level of plain error, ascribing blame to Samatua for the rapes the victim suffered at the hands of her father is, indeed a more serious concern.
The appellate court noted that the record is clear that the prosecutor’s comments (which Samatua finds objectionable) were made during rebuttal. Samatua’s lawyer during closing, attacked the credibility of the victim, questioned the delay in reporting of the rape by Samatua, and directed all the blame to the victim’s father. The prosecutor’s comments during rebuttal were in direct response to Samatua’s arguments.
Samatua also argues that his counsel Mark Ude at the time of trial committed numerous errors, which violated his sixth amendment rights to effective assistance of counsel.
Among the errors, Samatua contents that his counsel failed to ask for a continuance when the government, four days before trial, produced alibi rebuttal witnesses and failed to object to the government’s introduction of evidence concerning sexual assault the victim suffered at the hands of her father.
The Appellate court says, failure to seek continuance cannot constitute ineffective assistance of counsel where such a motion for a continuance is unlikely to be granted, Samatua assumes the trial court would have granted a continuance.
However Samatua provided nothing to show that the trial court would have actually granted continuance, the appellate said.
Regarding the ineffectiveness of counsel in failing to object to evidence by the government being introduced at trial, the appellate states that counsel intentionally allowed evidence to come in as part of his defense strategy to divert the jury’s attention away from Samatua to the victim’s father.
Furthermore even if counsel’s strategy was patently unreasonable, upon reviewing the record the court is not convinced that the result of the trial would have been different without the admission of such evidence relating to the victim’s father.
On sentencing abuse, Samatua argues the trial court abused its discretion when it imposed two consecutive sentences because double jeopardy applies and the sentences should have merged. He points to the fact that the government presented alternative theories of rape, not alternative charges under two separate statutes.
The appellate decision said the trial court reached the conclusion when it extensively discussed the matter when they denied motion for reduction of sentence and the trial’s court reasoning on this matter is sound and the Appellate court sees no reason to disturb that conclusion.
According to the appellate ruling Samatua presents no clear reason why this sentencing provision should not extend to a defendant who has been found guilty of separate offenses by a jury, sentencing is a completely different procedural matter that comes into play only after the defendant has been convicted by a jury of his peers.
The Appellate court said the relevant question for the present matter is whether the trial court correctly interpreted the two charges against Samatua as being separate charges and whether the court has the discretionary authority to impose consecutive punishments for these charges.
The answer is a resounding yes to both, it said and noted that Samatua presents no clear reason for his assertion that the trial court at sentencing abused its discretion and the court’s review of the record produced none.