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Possession of one marijuana cigarette, nets woman 5-year probation

Just say no to marijuana symbol
Includes a $500 fine and suspended 12 mos. sentence

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Associate Justice Fiti A. Sunia make it clear during the sentencing of a young woman convicted of unlawful possession of one hand-rolled marijuana cigarette last week that even if a person is convicted of unlawful possession of only a small quantity of marijuana, the statute says that person must serve a mandatory sentence of 5 years.

Grace Tagaloa, who was released by the court on her own recognizance after she entered a guilty plea under a plea agreement with the government in May of this year, appeared in High Court last week for sentencing.

Prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Christy Dunn, while Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill represented the defendant.

Tagaloa was originally charged with one count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; marijuana, a felony punishable by not less than five nor more than ten years in jail, and a fine of not less than $5,000 and not more than $20,000, or both.

However, in a plea agreement with the government, Tagaloa pled guilty to unlawful possession of a controlled substance, to wit; marijuana.

With her guilty plea, Tagaloa admits that on Feb. 3, 2019 she unlawfully possessed a hand rolled marijuana joint for her own personally used.

When given the chance to address the court, Tagaloa apologized to the court and begged for a second chance to care for her mother and family.  She told the court that she was extremely drunk on the day of the incident and “there is no excuse for my action and I take full responsibility for what I did.”

She then thanked God for allowing her the opportunity to stay in jail for many months, “so that I could join several Christian programs by several church organizations, which changed me as a person.”

Tagaloa’s attorney McNeill asked the court to uphold the Probation Office’s recommendation for a probated sentence for his client, to give her another chance to get her life together.

He also told the court that his client lost her job at Bluesky when she was arrested for this case.

Spending 107 days behind bars, McNeill told the court that his client has learned a lesson, and she has realized that prison is not a good place for here. She needs to move on with her life.

Prosecutor Lowe echoed the defense’s submission and said that based on the facts of the case, the defendant is a suitable candidate for a probated sentence.

Before delivered sentencing, the court summarized the case.

According to the court, Tagaloa and a male were taken in for questioning at the DPS Tafuna substation on Feb. 3.

Tagaloa and a male, identified as Lemi Fiu, were riding in a taxi that pulled into the Tafuna substation parking lot on the day in question. A police officer allegedly saw Tagaloa throw an object "across and over the head of the male passenger, who was sitting directly across from her."

The police officer claims that the object went past Fiu's head and out through the right rear door of the vehicle. The cop approached the taxi to look at what was thrown and according to his statement, it "appeared to be a hand-rolled cigarette" of a green leafy substance, lying on the ground next to the taxi.

The officer said he picked up the cigarette and then asked both passengers to go into the substation for questioning.

Tagaloa and Fiu were put in separate rooms, when questioned.

"Both of them pointed at each other, and blamed each other," said the officer.

The hand-rolled cigarette tested positive  for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Sunia, in delivering Tagalog’s sentence, stated that despite a person being caught with only a small quantity of marijuana, the statute states that the court can sentence that person to a mandatory imprisonment terms of 5 years.

“It’s not our business to tell more about these cases; it’s our business to enforce the law,” he said.

On the other hand according to Sunia, the law also allows the court to either sentence the defendant to 5 years imprisonment or to place her on probation.

Tagaloa was then sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and a $500 fine. Execution of sentence is suspended, and Tagaloa is placed on probation for 5 years subject to several conditions.

She has to serve 90 days at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), she will be credited for the 107 days she has already served at TCF, awaiting her case.

Tagaloa was also ordered to pay a $500 fine, be law abiding, not possess any illegal drugs or consume any alcohol, and she is subject to random drug and alcohol testing to make sure she’s clean at all times.

She is also banned from entering any bars, taverns or businesses that sell alcohol, and she is not congregate with people who are dealing illegal drugs or consuming alcohol.