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Young drug offender released to seek employment

American Samoa High Court building

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A young male passenger in a vehicle, who was arrested and later convicted for violating local drug laws, was released from custody last week after the High Court decided to allow him to seek employment to provide for his family and pay his fines.

John Tagai Jr, who was in custody for about 9 months, unable to post a $5,000 surety bond appeared in High Court last week for sentencing. He was represented by Assistant Public Defender Rob McNeill while prosecuting the case was Assistant Attorney General Laura Garvey.

The defendant, 20, was initially charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine; one count of unlawful possession of marijuana — both felonies — and one count of underage drinking, a misdemeanor.

But a plea agreement with the government, that was accepted by the court, allowed Tagai Jr to plead guilty to a lesser amended charge.With his guilty plea, Tagai Jr admits that on Dec. 28, 2019 police found methamphetamine in his possession during a traffic stop. The remaining charges were dismissed by the Court according to terms of the plea agreement.

When given the chance to address the court, Tagai Jr apologized for his action and begged for a second chance to return home to provide for his family and young sibling, stating that the 9 months he spent in custody taught him a lesson, which will help him to rebuild his life.

His defense attorney, McNeill asked the court to adopt the recommendation by the Pre Sentence Report (PSR) and sentence his client to a probated sentence. McNeill told the court that his client is a young man with a bright future. He attended Fulton College in Fiji, a theological school of the Seventh-day Adventist Church after he graduated from Iakina Academy.

He returned back home to care for his mother and young siblings after his father passed away last year. According to McNeill, his client is an intelligent young man who wanted to follow his late father’s footsteps as a local businessman.

The prosecutor echoed the defense attorney’s submission and asked the court for a probated sentence.

Before the verdict and sentence was delivered, the court recapped the matter. According to the court, the defendant was a passenger of a vehicle police pulled over during a traffic stopped on Dec. 28, 2019 at a Holiday Sobriety Checkpoint.

According to the government, a marijuana joint was found under the driver’s seat while a glass pipe containing meth was discovered under the middle seat. Tagai Jr allegedly admitted to police that both the marijuana joint and the glass pipe belonged to him, and he had bought the meth from Le Aute earlier that day. Furthermore, he had been drinking and took two puffs of the marijuana joint.

The court sentenced Tagai Jr, to one year imprisonment. Execution of sentence was suspended and the defendant was placed on probation for two years subject to several conditions.

He’s ordered to refrain from consuming alcohol or possessing illegal drugs. He is subject to random testing to make sure he’s in compliance with the stay clean order. He’s also ordered to seek and find gainful employment and to pay a fine of $1,000 within 3 months.

Probation review of the defendant is set for Jan. 2021 where the court expects by that time, the defendant will be able to pay his fine in full.

“Mr. Tagai Jr, you promised us you won't do it again. So don’t break your promise,” the court advised the defendant.