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Re: ‘Dismissed with Prejudice’ by the High Court SN 4/9/19.

Dear Editor,

Defense attorney Uiagalelei paints a quaint picture of a suffering, unemployed person who has unfairly lost his freedom to travel and job after he posted bail. A freedom that was compromised when he was accused of having an alleged sexual relationship with an underage male student; and was also charged with allegedly patronizing prostitution- 10/11/17 Talanei. He was considered a flight risk at the time he was charged before the local court.

Elijah Jared Tavai is the son of a prominent high chief and religious leader. His mother is the president of the local AS chapter Samoa Victims Support Group, well established in Apia. (SVSG champions victims of sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence.) He is also a gifted and popular Gospel musician, youth leader in his church and former music teacher at Leone High School (LHS).

The victim for over 2 yrs his life went to a stand still for several reasons, including the emotional upheaval of fear, shame and embarrassment. The depth of the sex acts he was allegedly coerced to perform upon the defendant was compounded by contracting a sex transmitted disease (SN 2017 for full story) Because of his innocence, immaturity, confusion and ignorance, the victim and his family’s lives plunged due to his disclosures.

 A speedy trial would’ve made a difference for both parties. Tavai had already admitted being guilty in Oct. 2017. Investigation done, witnesses against Tavai had already filed police reports and were ready to testify. The victim was ready to tell his story in court.

Whatever the outcome of the case, the AG was informed the victim was preparing for his church mission. A two-year mission where the youth leaves everything behind and pursues his mandated religious calling.

Uiagalelei expounded on his client’s hardships using the lapsed time to justify a “dismissal with prejudice” decision. He inserted, ‘the government does not offer any further information on when the alleged victim will return or if he even intends to return to Samoa.”

The defense didn't even have to argue or break a sweat other than just followed the law.

To add insult to injury, the prosecution subpoenaed the victim on Mar. 28, 2019 — when they knew on Mar. 26 that the victim had left the territory on Feb. 18, 2019.

I’m sure even presiding Judge Sunia was perplexed in commenting “the government never bothered to take any action, including a motion to dismiss the case in the early stages.”

This high profile case should never have been allowed to slide.

Was due diligence afforded this case when brought to trial? The AG either is failing his attorneys for the lack of support, laziness or its all about him in his comfort zone. Unfortunately since the attorneys are the ones in court, they are left holding the bag of blame for the AG’s indifference.

The victim may not have had a chance to stand in court to prove that sexual violence was done against him — but his voice was heard in October 2017. A cry went out through the wilderness of a bewildered teenager’s experience with a trusted teacher. A cry that will be added on to the many who are denied justice on a technicality of ‘absence’ and poor representation.

The victim was victimized by social status and prominence as well as the LHS principal that refused to report the offender; victimized by some churches and pastors whose frenzies on the offender’s denials and tossed the victim out to be mauled by his confusion; and victimized by a legal system that abandons with no action or follow up for their child-client and without support for two years.

The only positive side of this “DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE” case is that it cannot shield the defendant from this fact: it does not mean the reported sex offense didn’t happen.

Ipu Avegalio Lefiti, Victim Advocate