Overstayer’s travel documents in process for his deportation after drug conviction
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — An overstayer from Samoa convicted of violating local drug laws was ordered by the High Court last week to depart the territory and remain outside of its border, as a condition of their 5-year probation.
Alapati Tauga, a citizen of Samoa entered the territory last year on a 30-day permit and remained as an overstayer for many months before he was arrested in April of last year, and appeared in High Court last week for sentencing. He has been in custody since his arrest unable to post a $15,000 surety bond.
Assistant Public Defender, Ryan Anderson represented the defendant while Assistant Attorney General Kristine Soule prosecuted the case.
Tauga was initially charged with one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine (meth) and one count of unlawful possession of meth with the intent to distribute, both unclassified felonies, punishable by imprisonment of 5-10 years, a fine between $5,000 - $20,000 or both.
However, in a plea agreement with the government, accepted by the court in May of this year, Tauga pled guilty to the amended charge of unlawful possession of meth, a class D felony, punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.
With his guilty plea, Tauga admits that on Apr. 25th, 2020 he unlawful possessed a small baggie containing meth.
Tauga appeared in court in May for sentencing, however, after discussion between the court and the both parties, the court granted the joint motion for continuance to give both sides enough time to fix the problem with the defendant’s travel documents.
He appeared in court last month for sentencing. Again, both sides made a joint motion to the court for another continuance stating that they’re still trying to get a travel document for the defendant. Both parties told the court that they are having a hard time locating the defendant’s sponsor.
Associate Justice Fiti Sunia granted the motion and postponed Tauga’s case from last month until last week.
When Tauga’s case was called, the prosecutor informed the court that the government has already sent money to the Samoa Consulate Office to obtain Tauga’s travel document. The prosecutor further stated that once the defendant’s travel document is ready, the defendant could depart the territory sometime this month.
When given the chance to address the court, Tauga apologized for his action. He said he’s truly remorseful and begged for forgiveness.
Defense attorney, Anderson asked the court to sentence his client to a term of probation and allow him to depart the territory immediately and return to his family in Samoa.
The prosecutor echoed Anderson’s submission.
After a brief recess, the court rendered its decision.
The court sentenced the defendant to a term of imprisonment of 5 years. Execution of imprisonment term was suspended and the defendant was placed on probation for 5 years subject to several conditions.
He shall serve 20 months at the Territorial Correctional Facility (TCF), upon serving the period of detention, he shall depart the territory and remain outside of its border for the remaining period of probation.
The court ordered a fine of $2,000 to be paid by the sponsor and the government’s attorney was instructed by the court to locate the sponsor — saying the territory is a small place and the court is confident that someone in the Immigration Office knows how to locate the sponsor.
The court told the defendant that he took advantage of the opportunity given to him to visit the territory.
“You abused that opportunity and violated the laws of the territory,” the court said.
The court made it clear to the defendant that he if he enters American Samoa before his probation expires, he will face serious consequences.
Chief Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr and Associate Judge Tunupopo A. Tunupopo assisted Sunia on the bench.
The conviction against the defendant stemmed from an incident when police officers pulled over a vehicle during a traffic stop for a traffic violation and drugs were discovered in the defendant’s possession.
In addition, the defendant entered American Samoa on a 30-day permit and continued to remain in the territory as an overstayer until he was arrested last year.