A man has been sentenced to two years and three months imprisonment for being in possession of 7.9 grams of methamphetamine and an electronic scale used to weigh banned substances.
Tapu Oloaga, 37, of Tafuna, American Samoa and Laulii pleaded guilty to the two charges and was sentenced by the Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson on Monday.
According to the summary of facts presented in court, the defendant arrived on a Polynesian Airline flight at Fagalii airport at 5 pm on November 2, 2017. He made his way to the terminal for normal immigration and customs checks. During the course of a customs officer and a police officer checking the defendant’s belongings, he produced an electronic weighing scale from his pocket.
He was taken to a room for a full body search as officers believed the scale is used to weigh banned substances. While the defendant walked to the room, he quickly put his right hand inside his pocket and tore the bottom of the plastic bag and the substance scattered inside his pocket.
When the police conducted a full body search, they found one small clear plastic bag containing methamphetamine weighing 2.1 grams and one medium clear plastic bag containing methamphetamine weighing 5.8 grams. The total amount of methamphetamine in both plastic bags recorded in the summary is 7.9 grams but as stated previously, it was reduced by consent to 6.4 grams.
The prosecution, represented by Quentin Sauaga from the Office of the Attorney General, had argued that this is a case of importation of methamphetamine, hence defendant being charged with possession.
Their submission argued that defendant was not only a consumer, but a distributor of methamphetamine for commercial use and they pointed to the quantity involved, plus his carrying of an electronic weighing scale, which had traces of methamphetamine.
But the defense, represented by counsel Unasa Iuni Sapolu, had submitted that the penalty should not be a custodial sentence as the methamphetamine was for personal use only and went on to cite several New Zealand authorities where penalty of home detention was imposed.
Justice Vui, after considering the submissions of both the prosecution and the defense, said he had to impose a custodial sentence to serve as a deterrence to the defendant and others who wanted to get involved with methamphetamine.
“This is to deter not only the defendant from future involvement with such illegal narcotics and to send a loud and clear message to others that if you involve yourself with methamphetamine it is likely you will be spending time in either Tafaigata or Vaiaata. All other defendants who have previously appeared before the court on possession of methamphetamine have received imprisonment penalties and it is highly likely that will continue to be the case. It is of concern to the court that the harder type narcotics seem to be taking root in our community and as evidence by the increasing number of cases coming before the court involving Class A drugs in recent years,” he stated in his ruling.
“It used to be that marijuana a Class B drug was the flavor of the day but that seems no longer the case. Methamphetamine and cocaine are emerging as new players in the drug market. Experience shows probably as pre-cursers of even harder and more addictive narcotics. The court must by its penalty soundly discourage such a trend and do all that is possible to stamp out this growing trend before the problem becomes as entrenched in Samoan society as is the use and consumption of marijuana.”