Drug defendant sentenced in absentia after fleeing off island
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The High Court yesterday morning moved forward with the sentencing of a young man convicted of violating local drug laws, despite the fact that the defendant departed the territory last month.
Faletoi Misiluti, a co-defendant in a case where police raided a house in Vaitogi pursuant to an arrest warrant from the court, was scheduled to appear before Associate Justice Fiti Sunia last week for sentencing.
However, when Misiluti’s case was called, defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill informed the court that based on information he received from his client’s family member, Misiluti, who had been released on a $5,000 surety bond, left the island.
Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn said that based on the defendant’s movement profile with the Attorney General’s Office, Misiluti has left the island.
Before the case was continued to yesterday morning, Sunia asked both parties to consider whether the court can still go forward with sentencing despite the fact that the defendant is not present in court.
Yesterday morning, Dunn informed the court that based on Rule 43 of Court Proceedings, the court can still move forward with sentencing even though the defendant is not present. She said the defendant’s voluntary absence was his own decision, and not something the court was aware of.
McNeill asked the court to consider his client’s early plea and the fact that he’s truly remorseful for what he did. According to McNeill, Misiluti was at his friend’s home when armed detectives executed a search warrant there.
Dunn agreed with McNeill’s submission, saying Misiluti is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence, despite the fact that he left the territory without court approval. Dunn said that based on the plea agreement, the government recommends probation with a short period of detention.
In delivering his decision, Sunia said Misiluti was initially charged with one count of unlawful possession of marijuana, a felony that carries a prison sentence of 5-10 years, a fine of $5,000-$20,000 or both.
However, under the plea agreement that was rejected by the court, Misiluti pled guilty to the amended charge of unlawful possession of marijuana, a class D felony, punishable by up to 5 years, a fine of up to $5,000 or both.
According to the plea agreement, Misiluti agreed to admit that on May 14, 2019 in Vaitogi, he had in his possession one hand rolled marijuana cigarette when police conducted a body search on him. Misiluti was in the Vaitogi home of Alesana Tipi, also known as Sulu, when the search warrant was executed. Police discovered illegal drugs, cash, and a rifle at the house.
When asked about the marijuana joint that was found in his shirt pocket, Misiluti told police he didn’t know who owned it, as he doesn’t smoke drugs nor is he involved in selling it. He said he was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Sunia pointed out that Misiluti appeared in court on Nov. 7, 2019 for a Change of Plea hearing, where the plea agreement was accepted. The court continued his release on bond to await sentencing, with the understanding that he would comply with the court’s orders.
According to the Pre Sentence Report (PSR), the defendant disrespected the court by departing the territory without court approval. Misiluti is sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of $5,000. Detention will commence whenever Misiluti is located.
Sunia has also ordered the forfeiture of Misiluti’s $5,000 surety bond.
Misiluti was one of 7 individuals who were taken in for questioning on May 14, 2019 following a police raid at Logotala Hill, located between iliili and Vaitogi. During the search, police discovered Cannabidiol or CBD oil, a chemical compound found in marijuana; several marijuana plants and joints; a rifle; and a huge amount of cash.
The other person the government charged following the search was Tipi, the homeowner. Tipi is charged in two separate criminal cases, both involving unlawful possession of drugs. His case is still pending in High Court. Meanwhile, he is out on a $10,000 surety bond.