High Court sentences yet another man for violating local drug laws
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A 45-year-old man has been convicted of violating the local drug laws. Peniata Lologa appeared in High Court last week for sentencing.
The defendant, who has been in custody since his arrest, unable to post a $5,000 bond was initially charged with one court of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a felony punishable by not less than 5 years and not more than 10 years imprisonment, or a fine of not less than $5,000 and not more than $20,000.
However, under a plea agreement accepted by the Court two months ago, the defendant pled guilty to the amended lesser felony charge of unlawful drug possession.
With his guilty plea, the defendant admits that on Nov. 20, 2019 he possessed two glass pipes containing methamphetamine, and a cut up straw containing methamphetamine.
According to the police report, Lologa was a passenger in a vehicle when police pulled it over for displaying the wrong license plate. The driver of the vehicle was later identified by police as Fred Tino, who is a co-defendant in this matter.
When given the chance to address the court, Lologa apologized for his action and asked the court for a chance to go home to care for his family. He told the court that he’s truly remorseful and he will not violate the local drug laws in the future.
Speaking of the 15 months he spent in the TCF, the defendant told the court that he now knows that staying away from his family is something that should never happen in his life. He asked the court to grant him another chance so that he can change his life and seek gainful employment to pay his fine.
The defense attorney asked the court to adopt the recommendation by the Pre Sentence Report (PSR) and sentence his client to probation without serving further jail time.
The defense attorney stated that his client takes full responsibility for his action and he’s also truly remorseful for what he did. He also stated that his client has a prior conviction in District Court over ten years ago.
Moreover, the defense attorney told the court that his client has a drug problem and there is a need to address his problem so that he can break his addiction. He said Lologa will continue to have a drug addiction problem if nothing is done to address it.
The only way to address Lologa’s drug addiction problem according to the defense attorney is to give him a second chance, and allow him to attend a substance abuse counseling program, which will give him the chance to re-group himself and move forward with his life.
The prosecutor agreed with the defense attorney’s submission and asked the court to adopt the PSR recommendation and sentence the defendant to probation.
The court asked the prosecutor what the government whether the government is able to provide any counseling programs to address the defendant’s problem, and the court was told that there are counseling programs available with the Department of Human & Social Service (DHSS), which can help the defendant with his drug problem.
Moreover, the prosecutor told the court that the 15 and a half months the defendant has already served in the TCF is good enough for his period of detention in this matter.
The court pointed out that despite the arguments from both attorneys that the quantity of drugs found in the defendant’s possession was small, according to the statute that was passed by the Fono, a person convicted of unlawful possession of illegal drugs of any quantity can be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years and not more than 10 years.
“Regardless of how much is found in the defendant’s possession, unlawful possession of illegal drugs is a very serious offense in American Samoa,” the court said.
Lologa was then sentenced to five years in jail and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine; however, the execution of the sentence was suspended and the defendant was placed on five years probation on the condition that he serve 20 months in the TCF, not possess any illegal drugs or consume any alcohol and is subject to random drugs and alcohol testing.
The defendant was credited for time served —15 months with the remainder of 5 months stayed until further order of the court.
He was also banned from entering any bars, taverns or business that sell alcohol, and he is not to congregate with people who are dealing or using illegal drugs or consuming alcohol. The defendant is also ordered to attend and complete drug abuse counseling conducted by DHSS to help out with his drug problem.
The court’s last message to the defendant was: “If you choose to continue to smoke ice, it’s up to you, but we will make sure you will serve the suspended period of your sentence of 5 years. However, if you choose to abide with these orders, we may choose to reduce the period of your probation. So, the choice is now yours.”
According to the government, Lologai has two convictions in District Court — in 2008 and 2014.
In 2008, he was convicted for trespassing and 3rd degree assault and was sentenced by the court to 12 months probation. Lologa went to his neighbor’s house and assaulted a man who had beaten up his son.
Six years later in 2014, Lologa was arrested and charged for misdemeanor stealing. He was placed on probation for 24 months with the condition that he serves 45 days at TCF. The underlying facts of the case was that Lologa stole merchandise from an Asian store in Tafuna where he used to work.