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Court gives drug offender a second chance, despite misgivings of true repentance

American Samoa High Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — It was during the sentencing of a man where the court advised him not to hide behind his sick mother and brother — instead  if he wanted a second chance from the court, try to persuade the court to give it to him.

This was the message from the court during the sentencing of a 43-year-old man convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; marijuana.

Alex Faatoia, who has been in custody since his arrest on Nov. 29, 2019 unable to post a $5,000 surety bond, was initially charged with unlawful possession of controlled substances — methamphetamine and marijuana — both felonies, punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than five years nor more than ten years, and a fine of not less than $5,000 nor more than $20,000 or both, for each count.

Under a plea agreement with the government last month, Faatoia pled guilty to the marijuana charge and the remaining meth charge was dismissed.

During sentencing, Faatoia apologized to the court and begged for another chance to return home to care for his sick father and sister. The defendant told the court that prior to his arrest, he was the one who took care of his mother and his older brother, who is a stroke victim.

He told a long story to the court about his service for his family and how he ended up doing drugs on this road. Faatoia stated to the court that before his father passed away in 2014, he promised him that he would take good care of his sick mother and brother.

He worked hard everyday as a carpenter to provide for his family including his young siblings who depended on him. However, everything changed in his life when he started to hang out with wrong friends in the beginning of 2019 — friends who were involved in drugs.

He then used most of his money on drugs and alcohol and he started to live apart from his family, neglecting his promise to his father.

Faatoia apologized to his family especially his mother and brother and promised them that once he’s released from prison, he will care for them and everyone in the family.

Before the court heard final submissions from attorneys of both sides, the court asked the defendant some questions.

“You are now asking for a chance to go back home to care for your sick mother and brother,” the court said to the defendant, who was sitting beside his attorney. “But the reason you’re in court is because police found you drinking and making noise at a bus stop with some marijuana and little ice on you. According to the police investigation, you have some drug addiction problems and that is against the law.”

The court told the defendant that It was his own personal choice that brought him to the court and now “you’re pleading to the court to give you another chance so you can go back home and care for your sick family?”

The defendant was told that the court can allow him another chance to go back home but the court is not sure whether or not he would go back to his same old lifestyle if the court grants him a second chance. And if he goes back to his old lifestyle, and the police find him again with some drugs, the government will again spend its resources to take care of him.

The court also wanted to know how can the defendant make sure the court is not going to see him again in another 10 years. The defendant did not respond. He just sat beside his defense attorney with his head bowed down.

The court told the defendant that the bottom line is, he shouldn’t hide behind his sick mother and brother. If he wants a second chance from the court, try to persuade the court so that the court can give him a second chance.

Faatoia said, “This will not happen again," and he promised never to commit any more crimes in his life.

“I learned my lesson and I want to return back home to care for my family and prove to the court that I can change my life,” the defendant said.

His attorney asked the court to allow his client to return home. He said his client takes full responsibility for his actions and he made an early admission to his crime.

The defense attorney further said his client was convicted of public peace disturbance (PPD) — a misdemeanor — over ten years ago and since then, he has been a productive member of society, truly remorseful for what he did.

The government’s attorney agreed with the defense that Faatoia is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence, but he also asked for a period of detention.

When the court asked the prosecutor to define what he meant by a period of detention, given the fact that the defendant has already served 15 months in prison, the government attorney said the government is asking for a period of detention of 20 months.

Faatoia was ordered to serve a 20-month detention period at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) without release, and throughout the period of probation, he has to remain clean, meaning, no alcohol or drugs in his possession or inside his system. He will be subject to random testing to ensure he’s in compliance.

Execution of the detention period is stayed until further order of the court, and the defendant is ordered to be released forthwith. The court ordered the Probation Office to conduct a test on the defendant immediately after the court rendered sentencing, and the defendant is to be tested every week within the next 30-days.

The imposition of the sentence was suspended for five years, and the defendant is placed on probation for five years under the certain conditions.

The defendant was told that the court can put him away from the community for another 10 years, but now the court is giving him a second chance to straighten up his life, and if he violates any of these conditions the court has given him, the court will impose its decision and he will go to jail for up to ten years.

The charges against the defendant stem from an incident that occurred on Nov. 29, 2019 when two police officers responded to a PPD incident where three male individuals were fighting at a bus stop in the Tafuna area.

Officers arrived and found Faatoia standing on the side of the bus stop yelling profanities to people passing by. The other two male individuals fled the scene before police arrived.

When one of the cops approached Faatoia, a strong odor of alcohol coming from his breathe was easily detected. Faatoia refused to comply with officers’ instructions which resulted with his arrest and transportation to the Tafuna Police Substation (TPS).

During a body searched, clear plastic baggies containing methamphetamine and 2 hand rolled marijuana cigarettes were found inside his wallet.