Man misses court hearing: “My attorney failed to contact me,” he claims
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A man who was ordered by the court to serve the remaining period of his detention of 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF) for failure to comply with conditions of his release while pending his sentencing told the court that it was his attorney’s fault that led him to miss his court hearing.
“I complied with all of your orders including my signing it at my attorney’s office, however, you know that I was not at fault for failing to appear in court during my previous hearing, it was my attorney who failed to contact me for the next hearing,” said Vincent Taumafai after the court handed down the defendant’s sentence.
The court stopped Taumafai from continuing with his statement and reminded him that he has been given the opportunity to address the court before the court issued its decision. However, he decided not to say anything.
The court further reminded the defendant that when he appeared in court for his Change of Plea (COP) hearing in May of this year, the court advised him that he cannot withdraw his guilty plea if he doesn’t like the court’s decision. The court further reminded the defendant that during his COP hearing, he waived all of his rights.
Taumafai, who was released on his own recognizance awaiting sentencing after the court accepted his COP was initially charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, and one count of resisting arrest, both felonies.
But under a plea agreement with the government, accepted by the court, Taumafai pled guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, a class D felony, punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to $5,000 or both.
By his guilty plea, Taumafai admits that on Dec. 15, 2019, he had in his possession a small baggie containing methamphetamine. He further admits to the court that the drug found in his possession was for personal use.
Pursuant to the plea agreement, count two of resisting arrest was dismissed.
When given the chance to address the court, defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender, Rob McNeill informed the court that his client did not wish to make a statement to the court. McNeill then asked the court to sentence his client to probation and allow him to continue with his job to provide for his family and two young children.
According to McNeill, his client works at one of the car dealerships as a mechanic.
The prosecutor echoed the defense’s statement and asked the court to adopt the recommendation by the Probation Office included in the Pre Sentence Report (PSR).
Taumafai was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and a $2,000 fine.
Execution of the imprisonment sentence was suspended and Ala was placed on probation for 5 years subject to several conditions, including 20 months at the TCF, where he was credited for the 2 and a half months he has already served before he was released awaiting sentencing. The court then ordered Taumafai to serve the remaining balance of his detention of 17 and a half months at the TCF without any release unless by order of the court.
Taumafai was also ordered not to consume any alcohol or illegal drugs and he’s subject to random testing to make sure he is in compliance with the alcohol and drug-free order.
The court strongly emphasized to the defendant that he must not have any contact with people who are involved in drugs and his duty is to stay away from them when they try to approach him.
The court said the territory is suffering and being poisoned by illegal drugs.
It was when the court asked both parties if there was anything about the sentencing the court did not address that Taumafai raised his hand and asked for a permission to address the court. It was then that Taumafai questioned his sentence, and the court interrupted and reminded Taumafai that he was given the chance to address the court, however, he wished to remain silent.
On Dec. 15, 2019 around 10:21p.m, patrolling officers observed a blue pickup traveling at a high speed on the Vaitogi Public Highway. Officers attempted to stop the vehicle but it continued to flee from officers towards Leone.
Several police units joined the pursuit and Taumafai’s vehicle was later stopped in front of an Asian store in Vaitogi.
Taumafai was found to not have a valid drivers’s license on him nor any form of photo ID to identify himself. He was then transported to the Tafuna Police Substation (TPS) for questioning. His vehicle was also impounded by police.
When Taumafai was transported to the TPS for questioning, a body search was conducted by police. During the patdown, police discovered a small baggie containing methamphetamine in Taumafai’s left pocket.
When questioned by police, Taumafai stated that the reason he did not stop right away was because he was scared that police might find drugs inside his vehicle. He fled from police in an effort to find a good place to get rid of the one baggie containing methamphetamine which was in his possession, however, it was difficult for him because the police unit was too close to his vehicle.
After Taumafai was released on his own recognizance in May when the court accepted his change plea with the government, Taumafai failed to appear in court when his case was called in May of this year. The court issued a bench warrant for his arrest. After an Order to Show Cause (OSC) hearing after his arrest, Taumafai was released pending sentencing.
During his OSC hearing, his defense attorney, McNeill admitted to the court that it was his office’s fault that caused his client to miss his hearing. McNeill further stated that the Public Defender’s office failed to inform Taumafai about changes to his next court date.