Man sentenced despite attorney’s claim that he needs rehab not more jail time
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Assistant Public Defender, Ryan Anderson told the High Court during the sentencing of the defendant Vise Gauta, convicted for violating local drug laws that there are facilities that can help people with a drug problem but TCF (Territorial Correctional Facility) is not one of them.
Gauta, an overstayer with a long criminal history appeared before Chief Justice Michael Kruse yesterday morning for sentencing. He was represented by Anderson while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Kristine Soule.
The defendant, who has been in custody since his arrest in 2018 unable to post bond, was originally charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance, to wit; methamphetamine, a felony punishable by not less than five or more than ten years in jail, and a fine of not less than $5,000 or more than $20,000, or both.
However, in a plea agreement with the government, Gauta pled guilty to a lesser charge of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; methamphetamine. With his guilty plea, Gauta admits that on Sept. 20th, 2018 he unlawfully possessed a glass pipe containing methamphetamine.
Gauta did not wish to make a statement. His defense attorney, Anderson spoke on behalf of his client.
Anderson asked the court to sentence Gauta to a probated sentence without any additional period of detention. He said his client has served many months at the TCF since his arrest in 2018. He also stated to the court that the glass pipe that was found in his client’s possession contained a small amount of methamphetamine.
He informed the court that his client has a drug problem that needs to be addressed and this drug problem continues to cause damage to his life. He also stated to the court that there are facilities that can help people with drug problems but TCF is not one of them. He further stated that the TCF is over-crowded with people serving detention from drug convictions.
Prosecutor Soule did not agree with the defense’s attorney submission that the defendant has a drug problem. According to Soule, Gauta does not have a drug problem because he told Probation that the glass pipe containing methamphetamine found in his possession does not belong to him.
Soule told the court that the defendant didn’t admit to Probation that he has a drug problem. He claimed he found the glass pipe under a tree. The prosecutor argued that the defendant deserves to be punished according to the law.
A recess was called.
When the court reconvened, Gauta was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. This sentence will run consecutively with any other sentence he’s currently serving at the TCF.
Execution of the period of detention was suspended and the defendant was placed on probation for 5 years subject to several conditions. He has to serve 20 months at the TCF, with credit for the time he already served during his pretrial conference detention.
Upon serving his period of detention, the court ordered that the defendant depart the territory and remain outside of its borders for the duration of his probation. He will only depart the territory once a repatriation flight is arranged to transport home Samoa detainees who have already served their sentence.
If the 20 months detention expires and the repatriation flight isn’t scheduled, the defendant will be returned to the custody of Immigration due to his illegal status.
The court said that according to the sponsor, she doesn’t have anything to do with this defendant.
In 2013, Gauta was convicted of unlawful possession of marijuana and sentenced to 5 years probation. As a condition of his probation, he was ordered to serve 20 months at the TCF, remain law abiding and stay away from alcohol and illegal drugs.
Four years later while he was on probation in 2017, Gauta was arrested during a public peace disturbance incident in Vaitogi where he discharged a firearm during an argument with other family members.
Witnesses told police they saw Gauta take the gun away from a family member then aim it at another family member and fire two shots. A third shot was fired at a house where kids were. Gauta, in the police affidavit, stated to police that the gun belonged to another family member.
Gauta was convicted for unlawful discharge of a firearm and was sentenced to two years probation. The court also modified conditions of his 2013 probation and ordered him to serve the remaining period of his detention.
Few months later after Gauta was sentenced in 2018, he was arrested again for violating conditions of his probation after police found a glass pipe containing methamphetamine in his possession.
In 2019, the court found Gauta guilty of violating conditions of his probation and ordered him to serve out his suspended sentence, which was 20 months. During this time, he begged for another chance so he could return home and start a new life. His 20 months detention was completed in Jan. 2020.
However, due to his 2018 drug conviction, Gauta continued to be incarcerated at TCF awaiting the outcome of the case for which he appeared in Court yesterday.
Starting date for Gauta’s 20 months detention for his current conviction was Jan. 29, 2020.