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Is off island counseling answer to treating Am Samoa drug offenders?

Chief Justice Michael Kruse [SN file photo]

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “Drug addiction is on the rise in American Samoa and we have little resources to deal with and help people who have a drug addiction problem. The only available thing for us is to separate them from society.”

This was the message from Chief Justice Michael Kruse during the sentencing of a man who claimed a package mailed through the Post Office on Oct. 13, 2016 in which crystal methamphetamine was found.

The sentencing has been continued to next Friday, May 4, because the court wants to know more about the counseling program the defendant would attend and what is available in American Samoa.

Yuseff Carter, 44, 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.

Carter was initially charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; methamphetamine, a felony punishable by a mandatory term of imprisonment of not less than five or more than 10 years, a fine of not less than $5,000 or more than $20,000, or both.

However, under a plea bargain with the government, Carter agreed to plead guilty to the amended charge of unlawful possession of 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 form of a container with the label —  knowing there was methamphetamine inside.

The meth, found inside an electronic device, 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.

As part of the plea agreement, the government is not seeking prison time for Carter who is aware that he is not able to withdraw his guilty plea if he doesn’t agree with the sentence the court will hand down.

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 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.

“Are you sure about that?” Kruse asked White who responded, “I did not check but I’m sure there are programs in California.”

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 already aware of his drug problem and they told him they would do their best to make sure he gets treatment.

“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.

Kruse then ordered that Carter’s sentencing be continued until May 4, because the court wants to hear more about the counseling program the defendant will attend.

“Give me some meaningful submissions about this counseling program. The court wants to hear what step the family is going to take if we allow him to join the program,” Kruse concluded.