Sentencing postponed after efforts to renew immigration docs fail
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — An effort to renew immigration documents for two men from Samoa convicted of crimes in the territory has failed.
The Immigration Board has denied the application of transfer of sponsorship for inmate, Alofa Filipo, while the family of another inmate, Sauipuapuaga Lemusu refused to offer him any assistance.
Both Filipo and Lemusu appeared before Associate Justice Fiti Sunia for sentencing yesterday morning. Assistant Public Defender, Ryan Anderson represent both defendants while Assistant Attorney General, Kristine Soule’ appeared for the government.
ALOFA FILIPO’S CASE
When Filipo’s case was called, prosecutor, Soule’ informed the court that she received a letter from Immigration informing her that the Immigration Board has denied the defendant’s application for transfer of sponsorship.
As a result, efforts to renew the defendant’s immigration status have now come to an end.
Defense attorney, Anderson immediately asked the court for another continuance to allow him time to discuss the matter with his client regarding the next move.
Sunia granted the defense request and rescheduled Filipo’s sentencing to Oct. 7th.
Filipo’s sentencing was continued from May 28th until yesterday morning to allow time to seek more information on an option to renew the defendant’s immigration status.
When the issue of his departure was discussed, the court pointed out that the Pre Sentence Report (PSR) mentioned the name of the sponsor. Sunia said that immigration laws are clear — the sponsor has a part to play and responsibility to make sure the alien is under his/ her care.
The court pointed out that Filipo’s immigration ID expired in 2017 and the sponsor never bothered to renew it.
When asked by the court whether Filipo’s travel documents are ready for his departure, Anderson told the court no. He said his office is still trying to locate the sponsor to seek his help for his client’s travel documents.
According to Anderson, the Samoa government will not allow any one departing from American Samoa to enter their country with an expired travel document. Anderson recalled a similar case where one of his clients was ordered by the court to depart the territory due to his illegal immigration status, however, the Samoa government did not allow him back in due to an expired travel document.
This process by the Samoa Government of not accepting its citizens back home in Samoa despite a court order for deportation being issued — did not sit well with the High Court.
Sunia told attorneys from both sides that the High Court of American Samoa doesn’t listen to any foreign government on how to run its business.
Filipo was stopped for speeding, which cascaded into a run of bad luck for the defendant, mostly of his own making: First, he did not have a driver’s license, and when apprehended, he allegedly punched and kicked a police officer while resisting arrest; Second, when the vehicle he was driving was searched at the police station illegal drugs were allegedly discovered; and Third, in court, he was found to be an overstayer from Samoa.
Filipo was charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine (meth); and one count of unlawful possession of marijuana — both felonies. However, in a plea agreement with the government, Filipo pled guilty to the amended charge of unlawful possession of meth. The remaining charge was dismissed.
Due to Filipo’s illegal immigration status and the seriousness of the allegations against him, the court ordered that he remain in custody without bail.
The government claims that it was in the early morning of Nov. 21, 2019, that a vehicle in the Tafuna area was stopped for speeding.
Officers observed the vehicle swerving and overtaking vehicles as it made a wide turn into the Fogagogo road.
After he was Mirandized at the TPS, the suspect refused to make a statement to police, saying his head was hurting from the scuffle and he did not want to talk.
The white crystalline substance tested positive for meth while the green leafy substance tested positive for THC, an active ingredient in marijuana.
A question about the transfer of sponsorship for Lemusu resulted in his sentencing being continued from June to yesterday morning. When Lemusu appeared in court for sentencing on June 24th, 2021, his defense attorney, Anderson told the court that his client’s family has tried to file a motion for transfer of sponsorship for him but so far there’s has been no response from Immigration.
Sunia then continued sentencing for Lemusu until yesterday morning in order to obtain information about the defendant’s immigration status.
When Lemusu’s case was called yesterday morning, Anderson informed the court that his client is unable to locate a new sponsor and it appears that effort to renew his status failed because no one from his family wanted to offer sponsorship.
For that reason, Anderson then asked the court for another continuance to allow him time to discuss the next step with his client.
The government’s attorney did not object to the defense’s motion.
Soule told the court that the government is still trying to locate travel documents for the defendant so that he can return to Samoa due to his illegal immigration status. According to Soule, the defendant’s passport has expired and the Samoa Government won’t accepted him until he has a valid travel document.
Soule further stated that the government will set aside funds to cover the cost for the defendant’s travel document and return fare.
Sunia said the defendant paid his bond and the purpose of the bond is for his return fare. Soule agreed saying the government will make sure the defendant’s bond is available in preparation of his departure.
Sunia wanted to know what prevents the government of American Samoa from sending a citizen of Samoa who is residing in the territory home — without a travel document.
Soule responded saying that it’s a courtesy to Samoa to make sure all Samoa citizens being returned have valid travel documents.
Sunia said that if the process is based on a courtesy then the Samoa Government should pay ASG for housing their citizen while awaiting the long process to get their travel documents renewed before returning them home.
According to Sunia, these people belong to Samoa.
Lemusu is scheduled to appear in High Court on Nov. 23rd for sentencing.
Lemusu was initially charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine (meth), a felony. However, he pled guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful possession of meth, which is punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to five years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
The government’s case against Lemusu stems from a traffic stop in front of a gas station in Malaloa on June 22, 2020 about 6:00p.m, after officers observed a vehicle on the public highway with only one headlight.
The vehicle was stopped by officers, and moments later the DPS Vice and Narcotic K9 unit also arrived at the location and were able to assist the officers during the traffic stop.
Officers approached the driver and explained why they pulled him over. The driver was later identified as Lemusu.
When asked for his driver’s license, Lemusu did not have a driver’s license nor any form of identification on his person.
Lemusu was then told by officers that he would be taken to the Fagatogo Police Station (FPS) in order to contact family members to bring verification to confirm his identity. When Lemusu was patted down for weapons a police lieutenant found a glass pipe commonly used to smoke meth on Lemusu’s person.
When asked what it was, Lemusu replied to the officer in Samoan, “o le paipa e ula ai le aisa” — translation: “it’s a pipe used to smoke ice” also known as meth.
After the body search, Lemusu was immediately detained and on the way to the FPS, Lemusu informed the police sergeant who was driving his vehicle that there were illegal drugs in his pocket and he wanted the officer to remove the illegal drugs because both of his hands were cuffed.
Upon arrival at the FPS, the police sergeant who spoke with Lemusu regarding the illegal drugs approached the lead investigating officer and told him what the defendant had told him.
Lemusu confirmed to the lead investigator the information and told him that he had two straws containing meth inside his right side pants pocket.
Officers searched Lemusu’s right pocket and found the two straws containing white crystalline substance, which later tested positive for meth.
Lemusu was later Mirandized where he informed officers that he understood his rights and wished to make a statement and answer questions.
According to Lemusu’s verbal and written statement to investigators, he bought the ice from “V” who works for EMS in Faga’alu. He bought two straws worth about $50 (which was $25 each) from “V” at his place of work at the EMS compound in Faga’alu across from the LBJ Hospital.
Lemusu further stated to police that he usually buys meth from “V”, twice a week.
SEARCH AT EMS
After interviewing Lemusu regarding the incident where he’s charged with unlawful possession of illegal drugs, detectives from the DPS Vice & Narcotics K9 Units moved on to the next step of their investigation, which was to go after ‘V’, the person from whom Lemusu got his drugs.
After putting together all the information and evidence regarding Lemusu’s case, detectives then requested for a search warrant from the court to search “V’s” person and place of work at the EMS compound in Faga’alu.
About 4p.m on Friday afternoon, armed detectives of the Vice & Narcotic K9 Unit executed the search warrant for drugs on “V” at his place of work at the EMS compound . However, no illegal drugs were found during the search, only cash — about $800 was found on “V”.