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Illegal drugs received in the mail hard to prosecute

Le’i Sonny Thompson last Friday morning at the Fono after his Senate confirmation hearing as Police Commissioner, a post which he now officially holds after being confirmed by both the Senate and House.  [photo: FS]
Must prove “actual knowledge” — Fono asking if statute needs to be amended

Drug cases where illegal substances are sent through the US Postal Service but end up being dismissed by the court, is one of the issues raised by both the House and Senate during confirmation hearings for Talauega Eleasalo Ale as Attorney General and Le’i Sonny Thompson as Police Commissioner.

Le’i told lawmakers that he has already held a meeting with representatives of the Customs Division, US Post Office and the Attorney General’s Office on a number of issues including drug cases — such as drugs sent through the mail.

During Talauega’s House confirmation hearing early last week, Rep. Ve’evalu Meauta Mageo asked about drug possession cases, especially those which came through the Postal Service, but end up being dismissed by the court. He sought an explanation as to why these cases are dismissed.

Talauega explained that these cases deal with the issue of “actual knowledge” of the person picking up the parcel — that illegal substance are in the package, when it was picked up by the individual from the Post Office.

He said it is very difficult to prove the “element of knowledge” in drug possession cases, because knowledge is a personal thing and it’s hard to pinpoint if the person who picked up the package had prior knowledge that drugs were in fact in the parcel.

Talauega said police can ask the person, if he/ she had any “knowledge” of the drugs in a parcel and the person can easily respond, “no”.

The question then comes up, how to prove in court that the person knew that there were drugs in the parcel, he said, and noted the government can argue, among other things, in court that the mail box is under that person’s name, and the parcel is addressed to that same person.

Another argument, prosecutors can use, is that the person who received the parcel, knew the shipper — for example, if it was a family member who sent it.

Talauega said the Attorney General’s Office, Customs and Post Office are closely working to get these cases prosecuted successfully in court, but despite such efforts, the issue of “knowledge” impacts the work to prosecute drug cases.

He did point out that the close collaboration between all these entities resulted in charges filed against a former Post Office employee.

So despite many set backs, these entities all continue to work diligently to ensure the “element of knowledge” is proven in court, Talaeuga said. Asked if amendments to current law to address the knowledge issue can help the government, he said yes and suggested that the Fono and Executive Branch can work together in drafting legislation to address the “element of knowledge” as well as the “intent” of the person who picks up the parcel.

On Dec. 22 last year, the District Court dismissed without prejudice, the drug case against Mel Katrina Wells because the government failed to prove probable cause as to her knowledge that the parcel she picked up at the Post Office had drugs — 3 pounds of methamphetamine — inside the package.

Dismissed without prejudice means the government can re-file the case. Talauega didn’t say whether the government plans to re-file case against Wells.

During his confirmation hearing, Le’i told lawmakers that about two weeks after being at DPS, he called a meeting with the Chief of Customs Moetulu’i Sipili Fuiava, head of the local US Post Office and prosecutors with the AG’s Office, and one of the issues discussed was drugs allegedly sent through the mail.

He said there have been calls from the community regarding drug cases being dismissed in court, including drugs allegedly sent through the mail; and that one of the important issues is whether or not the person receiving the package knows the package contains an illegal substance.

Le’i said he emphasized at the meeting the need for the AG’s Office to work closely with police, Customs and the Postal Service before such cases are filed in court. He said that attorneys with the AG’s Office would be called in to meet with police, if a case surfaces, to discuss “the best course of action at that very moment before we (police) respond.”