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Drug defendant fined and sentenced to off-island counseling

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The High Court has suspended a period of detention for a 44-year-old man who claimed a package mailed through the Post Office on Oct. 13, 2016 in which crystal methamphetamine was found, and ordered him to attend and complete off-island drug counseling, which is a condition of his 5-year probation.

“You’re holding the key to that jail cell,” Chief Justice Michael Kruse told the defendant during his sentencing last week.

Yuseff Carter agreed to plead guilty to the charge of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; methamphetamine, a class D felony, punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to five years, and/or a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

With his guilty plea, the defendant admits that on or about Oct. 13, 2016 he went to the Post Office to pick up a package, in the form of a container with the label, knowing there was methamphetamine inside.

The meth was found inside an electronic device and weighed 1.2 ounces.

When questioned by police, Carter told investigators he was expecting a package from his father in San Diego and thought it had arrived. When informed about the illegal substance inside the package, Carter told investigators he was expecting something from Amazon but not this kind of package, with drugs inside.

Carter appeared before Kruse last Friday for sentencing. He was represented by deputy public defender Michael White, while assistant attorney general Woodrow Pengelly represented the government.

When given the opportunity to address the court, Carter apologized and asked for a second chance to continue caring for his family. He told the court that he’s remorseful and  promised never to break the law again.

His attorney asked the court for a probated sentence, and he also acknowledged the presence of Carter’s family members in court to show him support.

White said Carter’s family is willing to assist him however they can and to make sure he attends a drug abuse counseling program to help with his addiction problem.

“What types of counseling programs are available on island?” Kruse asked both attorneys. “Drug addiction is on the rise in American Samoa and we have little resources to help people who have drug addiction problems. The only available thing for us is to separate him from society. Anybody want to share something?”

White told the court that there are no resources on island that can help cure the addiction problem but there are programs available in Hawai’i and even other parts of the United States including California where his client can go and be treated.

Furthermore, White stated that the Salvation Army Family Treatment Services has accepted his client for in-patient counseling for one of their programs, which is mainly focused on drug counseling. He also stated that the program is 6 months long, and it will give his client the opportunity to rebuild his life and move away for his drug problem.

Kruse agreed and told White there are plenty of programs available off island, but he wants to know whether the defendant’s family is willing to help him, as both attorneys mentioned something about “strong family support.”

White told the court that Carter’s family is aware of his drug problem and they told him they will do their best to make sure he completes his counseling program.

“His family is willing to work with him to bring him out from the darkness he has been living in for many years of his life. They now see changes in him and they will continue to push him to make more changes to ensure he doesn't go back to that dark life again,” White told the court.

After reviewing all facts about the case, including submissions from both counsels along with the statement by the defendant, Kruse stated that the court would not impose a period of incarceration on the defendant at this time. However, if he fails to comply with conditions of his probation, the court will revisit his sentence.

As a condition of his 5-year probation, the defendant was ordered to pay a fine of $2,000, stay clean throughout the period of his probation, and to submit to random testing, which will be supervised by the Probation Office.

The defendant was also ordered to attend and complete the drug counseling program, coordinated by the Salvation Army in Hawa’ii for 6 months.

Associate Judges Fa’amausili Pomele and Muasau T. Tofili accompanied Kruse in delivering his decision.