Drug defendant opts for a bench trial
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The High Court has accepted a motion filed by Taoto Lagatonu through his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill, to waive his right to a jury trial, and let a panel of judges decide the matter in a bench trial.
Lagatonu told the court last week that after he discussed the matter with his attorney, he feels it's in his best interest to let a panel of judges, not jurors, decide his fate.
Lagatonu is a citizen of Samoa who is being held without bail. He is accused of possessing a handgun and drugs allegedly found during a traffic stop on the evening of Aug. 21, 2018.
Altogether, there are 11 charges: attempted assault, unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, unlawful possession of marijuana, unlawful possession of methamphetamine, possession of an unlicensed firearm, resisting arrest, careless driving, and public peace disturbance.
The allegations against Lagatonu stem from an incident whereby police stopped his vehicle for speeding in Faga’alu. During the stop, the government alleges that Lagatonu was removing items from his backpack and trying to hide them on the floor of the van, pushing them back with his right leg.
It’s alleged that during a police search of Lagatonu’s vehicle, they uncovered a 45 caliber gun - fully loaded with live ammunition; cut up straws sealed on both ends containing methamphetamine; two medium sized baggies containing marijuana; a glass pipe commonly used to smoke ice; and a digital scale commonly used to weigh drugs for sale.
When questioned by police, Lagatonu admitted that the meth, marijuana and handgun belonged to him. Five months after he was arrested, Lagatonu escaped from confinement. He was recaptured two days later, according to the government.
Lagatonu remains in custody, awaiting his bench trial set for Apr. 18th.