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Man convicted of drug possession gets a second chance

Chief Justice Michael Kruse [SN file photo]
Court has the option to put him away for up to 10 years if he fails to comply with certain conditions, says Kruse

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — “...don’t hide behind your sick father and sister. If you want a second chance from the court, try to persuade us so that we can give you a second chance.”

This was the message from Chief Justice Michael Kruse yesterday morning when he handed down the sentence for Faaili Mata’u, who was convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; marijuana.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Morris appeared on behalf of the government while Public Defendant Douglas Fiaui represented the defendant, who was in custody since his arrest on Oct. 29, 2017 unable to post a $5,000 surety bond.

Mata’u, a.k.a ‘Whistle’ was initially charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance - methamphetamine and marijuana - both felonies, punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than ve years nor more than ten years, and a fine of not less than $5,000 nor more than $20,000 or both, for each count.

Under a plea agreement with the government last month, Mata’u pled guilty to the marijuana charge and the remaining meth charge was dismissed.

During sentencing, Mata’u apologized to the court and begged for another chance to return home to care for his sick father and sister. The defendant told the court that prior to his arrest, he was the one who took care of his father and his older sister, who is a stroke victim.

Before the court heard final submissions from attorneys of both sides, Kruse asked the defendant some questions.

“You are now asking for a chance to go back home to care for your sick father and sister,” said Kruse to the defendant, who was sitting beside his attorney.

“But the reason you’re in court is because police found you sleeping at a bus stop with some marijuana and little ice on you. According to the police investigation, you have some drug addiction problems and that are against the law”.

“It was your own personal choice that brought you here... and now you’re with pleading the court to give you another chance so you can go back home and care for your sick family?” Kruse asked.

“We can allow you another chance to go back home but we’re not sure whether you will be going back to your same old lifestyle if we grant you a second chance. And if you go back to your old lifestyle and the police find you again with some drugs, the government will spend its resources to take care of you.”

Kruse continued, “How can I make sure I’m not going to see you again in another 10 years?” The defendant did not respond.

“The bottom line is, don’t hide behind your sick father and sister. If you want a second chance from the court, try to persuade us so we can give you a second chance,” Kruse told the defendant. Mata’u said, “This will not happen again,” and he promised never to commit any more crimes in his life.

His attorney asked the court to allow his client to return home. Fiaui said his client takes full responsibility for his actions and he made an early admission to the crime.

Fiaui said his client was convicted of public peace disturbance - a misdemeanor - over ten years ago and since then, he has been a productive member of society, truly remorseful for what he did. Morris agreed with the defense that Mata’u is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence but he also asked for a period of detention.

When Kruse asked the prosecutor to dfine what he meant by a period of detention, given the fact that the defendant has already served 4 1/2 months in prison, Morris said the government is asking for a period of detention of 6 months.

The imposition of the sentence was suspended for five years, and the defendant is placed on probation for five years under the certain conditions.

Mata’u was ordered to serve a 20-month detention period at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) without release, and throughout the period of probation, he has to remain clean, meaning, no alcohol or drugs in his possession or inside his system. He will be subject to random testing to ensure he’ s in compliance.

Execution of the detention period is stayed until further order of the court, and the defendant is ordered to be released forthwith. Kruse ordered the Probation Office to conduct a test on the defendant immediately after the court rendered sentencing, and the defendant is to be tested every week within the next 30-days.

“Mata’u, I can put you away from the community for another 10 years, but now the court is giving you a second chance to straighten up your life, and if you violate any of these conditions the court has given you, the court will impose its decision and you will go to jail for up to ten years”, Kruse told the defendant.

The charges against the defendant stem from an incident that occurred on Oct. 29, 2017 when two police officers observed the defendant sleeping at one of the bus stops in the Tafuna area. Police approached the defendant to check if he was intoxicated or in need of assistance.

When one of the cops woke Mata’u, they observed a knife at the bus stop when Mata’u stood up. The knife was concealed by Mata’u’s back while he was sleeping. Mata’u gave police officers a container he was holding and inside, they found clear plastic baggies containing methamphetamine and a small hand rolled cigarette which appeared to have been smoked.