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Stop smoking ice and use the skills you have, court tells drug defendant

Meth pipe on mirror

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The court told a 45-year-old man convicted of violating local drug laws that he needs to use the skills he has as a mechanic to make a better life for himself. Ionatana Ulai was sentenced to serve 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), as a condition of his 5 years probation.

Ionatana Ulai, who has been in custody since his arrest last year, unable to post a $5,000 surety bond appeared in court last week for sentencing.

Ulai was initially charged with one court of unlawful possession of methamphetamine (meth), a felony punishable by not less than 5 years and not more than 10 years imprisonment, or a fine of not less than $5,000 and not more than $20,000.

However, under a plea agreement with the government, which was accepted by the court two months ago, the defendant pled guilty to the amended lesser felony charge of unlawful drug possession.

With his guilty plea, the defendant admits that on May 29, 2020 he possessed 2 glass pipes containing meth, and a stamp sized baggie containing meth residue.

According to the plea agreement, Ulai was a passenger inside a vehicle when police pulled it over during a traffic stop for displaying the wrong license plate. The driver of the vehicle was later identified by police as Tasi Luteru, who is a co-defendant in this matter.

Nothing was found inside the vehicle when police searched it, but when they searched Ulai, they discovered two glass pipes containing meth in his pant’s pocket.

When given the chance to address the court, Ulai apologized for his action and asked the court for another chance to go back home to care for his family. He told the court that he’s truly remorseful for his action and he will never violate local drug laws in the future. Ulai spoke of being separated from his family in jail for about 13 months, saying it was his carelessness that caused him to be apart from his family.

He then asked the court to grant him another chance so that he can change his life and seek gainful employment to pay his fine.

The defense attorney asked the court to adopt the recommendation of the Pre Sentence Report (PSR) and sentence his client to probation without serving any additional imprisonment time.

He stated that his client has spent more than 13 months at the TCF unable to post his bond, he takes full responsibility for his action and he’s also truly remorseful for what he did. He also noted that his client has last gotten into trouble over 10 years ago.

The defense attorney moreover told the court that his client has a drug problem and there is a need to address his problem so that he can overcome it. He said Ulai would continue to suffer from drug addiction if nothing is done, and the only to address his problem is to give him a second chance, and allow him to attend a substance abuse counseling program, which would give him the chance to regroup himself and move forward with his life.

The prosecutor agreed with the defense attorney’s submission and asked the court to adopt the PSR recommendation and sentence the defendant to probation. It was noted that the quantity of meth found in his possession was very small and it was for personal use.

The government’s attorney told the court that there are counseling programs available with the Department of Human & Social Service (DHSS), which can help the defendant’s drug problem.

The prosecutor also told the court that the 13 months the defendant has already served in the TCF is good enough for his period of detention in this matter.

The court stated that drug offenders appearing before the court is not something new, especially drivers whose vehicles are stopped by police officers during traffic stops, and later drugs are discovered inside their vehicle or even in the possession of drivers.

Despite the arguments from both attorneys that the quantity of drugs found in the defendant’s possession was small, the court pointed out that according to the statute that was passed by the Fono, a person convicted of unlawful possession of illegal drugs of any quantity can be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than 5 years and not more than 10 years.

The court also pointed out that the court was struck by the PSR, which stated that this defendant has special skills that are really needed in American Samoa. According to the court, the defendant is a certified mechanic who can earn good money if he works at his trade in the country.

Ulai was sentenced to five years in jail and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine; however, the execution of the sentence was suspended and the defendant is placed on five years probation on the condition that he serves 20 months at the TCF, not possess any illegal drugs or consumes any alcohol and he is subject to random drug and alcohol testing.

The court ordered that the defendant to serve 14 months detention, including the time he has already served in TCF, and the remaining 6 months will be stayed until further order of the court.

He is also banned from entering any businesses that sell alcohol, and he is not to congregate with people who are dealing illegal drugs or consuming alcohol.

The court instructed the defendant that he needs to stop doing mechanic work at home and go find a job where he can get paid and move on with a normal life.

The court’s last message to the defendant was, if he chooses to continue smoking meth, it’s up to him — but the court will make sure he serves the suspended period of the sentence of 5 years.

However, if he chooses to abide with these orders, the court may choose to reduce the period of probation. So, the choice is now up to him to decide the direction of his life.