Driver of vehicle where drugs were discovered faces charges although no drugs were found on the defendant
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — District Court Judge, Gwen Tauiliili-Langkilde has found probable cause to bind over to High Court, the government’s case against Shaun Maiava, who entered a not guilty plea to the charges against him during his arraignment before Acting Associate Justice Elvis P. Patea yesterday morning.
Maiava, who is in custody, unable to post his $15,000, is one of the three defendants arrested and charged for violating local drug laws when police officers discovered illegal drugs in their vehicle during a traffic stop in June of this year.
Maiava is charged with one count of unlawful possession methamphetamine (meth) and one count of unlawful possession of meth with the intent to distribute, both felonies, punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than five years, nor more than twenty years, a fine up to $20,000, or both.
Bail is set at $15,000.
During the PX last Thursday, the government’s only witness, Sgt. Levi Tafaovale testified that drugs were found in a vehicle during a traffic stop in June. Maiava was the driver of the vehicle. However, according to the witness’s testimony, no drugs were found on Maiava.
Assistant Public Defender, Ryan Anderson appeared for the defendant while Assistant Attorney General Kristie Soule prosecuted the case.
In his testimony, Sgt. Tafaovale stated that on June 27, 2021 at about 12a.m, Vice and Narcotics Unit (VNU) were called to a matter at the Leone Police Substation (LPS) after patrol officers stopped a vehicle and later discovered drugs.
They arrived at the LPS and met up with patrol officers who had initiated the traffic stop and the officers were interviewed by detectives from the VNU regarding the alleged incident.
One of the traffic officers told investigators that they stopped a brown pickup near the LPS due to ‘non-transparent material’ adhered to the rear windows. During approach of the vehicle, police saw two unopened margarita beer cans between the driver and the front seat passenger.
As they spoke with the driver, they heard a female voice from the back seat, causing one of the officers to instruct the driver to roll down the back windows. As the driver rolled down the back windows, officers observed an open margarita beer container near the female passenger.
The officer then instructed the female passenger to exit the vehicle, which she did. Upon exiting the vehicle, officers confiscated the open margarita beer can, but then observed a stamp sized baggie containing white crystalline substance underneath the front passenger’s seat. Officers then detained all three individuals and escorted them to the police substation for further investigation.
The female passenger was later identified as Lagi Wright, a co-defendant in this matter. The driver was identified as Shaun Maiava, also a co-defendant, and the front seat passenger was identified as Pele Iuta, the third co-defendant.
While at the LPS, Wright was booked for possession of an unsealed container of alcohol in a moving vehicle; and upon a body pat down, officers discovered a small black pouch inside her bra. The black pouch allegedly contained a glass pipe, commonly used to smoke meth, and a medium simoi baggie. Inside the medium baggie, several small stamp sized baggies (15-count), medium plastic baggies containing a white crystalline substance, as well as $70 cash, were allegedly found inside it.
Upon detaining Iuta, officers observed him with an army backpack, which was also searched. Allegedly a small clear container containing 11 small stamp size baggies, 5 empty and 6 filled with white crystalline substance, and $14 cash was found in the medium container.
Also found was a bag of straws and a propane torch. Iuta told police when questioned that the paraphernalia belonged to Iuta, who said that it was Maiava’s backpack given to him when they were pulled over.
The vehicle was searched at the LPS, where drugs and paraphernalia were discovered — a glass pipe containing a usable amount of white crystalline substance inside and a small stamp sized baggie filled with the crystalline substance inside a compartment near the driver. When asked about the items, Maiava informed investigators that it was Iuta’s, but was given to him when they were stopped by police.
Test results of the white crystalline substance by senior detectives of the VNU, yielded positive results for meth.
The VNU detective witness spoke of his being a police officer for over 20 year, and that he’s been involved with over 100 drug cases and from that experience, drugs and paraphernalia allegedly discovered from this case prove the fact that these items were for distribution.
During cross examination, it came to light that no drugs were ever found on his client; however, in cross examination it was noted that drugs were discovered in the vehicle that the defendant was driving.
In her closing argument, the prosecutor asked the court to bind over the government’s case against Maiava to the High Court. She said the government has presented sufficient evidence to support the allegation against the defendant.
Anderson asked the court to dismiss the case against his client. He stated the government didn’t present any evidence to prove that drugs were found in his client’s possession. He further stated that based on the witness’s testimony, the drugs found in the bag belong to the other co-defendant.
Judge Tauiliili-Langkilde said the court is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to bind the case against the defendant to High Court for further proceedings.
Cases against the other co-defendants are still pending in District Court.