Uncontrolled alcohol use having fatal consequences: Justice Vui

A five-year jail term has been handed down to Paulo Luutia also known as Isaia Luutiga and Palemia Togiai in relation to a case of manslaughter in Leauva’a Uta last year. 

Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson also lamented the failure of village councils in their duty to control and police the distribution and consumption of alcohol within their communities. 

The two men pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter in relation to an incident in Leauvaa-uta on 12 May 2019 that lead to the death of Michael Mikaele Tia.

The men also pleaded guilty to being armed with a dangerous weapon, namely beer bottles which were used as weapons that led to a man’s death.

The victim, a father of two, was found not far from his home in Leauva’a Uta. 

Justice Vui ruled that death was primarily caused by injuries, mainly to the left side of the victim’s face and head, with an underlying fracture of the bone above his left eye socket.

“The forensic pathologist at the postmortem examination also found bleeding over the surface of the brain, all these being injuries consistent with blows from a blunt object. 

“The examination further revealed multiple abrasions to the deceased's chin, nose, arm, chest and legs consistent with a beating.

“As coroner I also further certify that alcohol played a significant part in the death of the deceased. 

"Some comments must again be made about the issue of alcohol.”

His Honour pointed out several measures being taken by the current Government to prevent deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These have been very successful and to date no one has died from COVID in our country,” Justice Vui said. 

“But every year many people die from alcohol-related offending, whether it be through beatings or motor vehicle accidents, and very little seems to be seriously done to address the problem.

“This [is] despite repeated warnings from the Judges of the country about the dangers of alcohol abuse and easy availability  of alcohol, particularly what I call the ‘jet-fuel’ variety in villages and stores.”

Justice Vui added that it is not the role of this court to advise on potential policy solutions to a problem.

“But it is undoubtedly a function of the courts of justice to draw attention to alarming trends of this nature, and to point out that an alcohol pandemic has arrived, has been on our shores for a long time and has sadly become a part of the fabric of everyday life in Samoa,” he said. 

“Sadly, many village councils are failing in their duty to control and Police the distribution and consumption of alcohol within their communities.

“And in the Apia urban area, it is a bit of a free-for-all. Until some concrete measures are implemented, tragic incidents like what happened in the present case, will continue to unfold before the courts.”

According to the Police summary of facts, around 8pm on the night of Saturday 11 May 2019, the defendants told their mother they were going to the shop to buy some phone credit. 

Instead, they went and bought bottles of beer and hid it at the back of their land. Later that night they retrieved their beer and began drinking.

Carrying some of the beer bottles, they then walked on the road on their way to watch the Sunday school practice, for the then Mother’s Day festivities. 

They met the deceased, who was standing in the middle of the road also holding a bottle of beer.

The deceased confronted the defendants, who did not respond but continued to walk away.

“However, the deceased persisted and called out more confrontational remarks to them [...] accusing them of being afraid and being cowards,” he said. 

“The defendants then made the tragic decision to turn back. Paulo struck the deceased with the beer bottle in his face, causing the deceased to stumble and Palemia threw his bottle at the deceased's head and face.

“This caused the deceased to fall on the ground and while on the ground the defendants kicked his body, head and facial areas.

“While the assault was in progress, one of the defendant’s brothers, Atapana, intervened and stopped the assault. 

“At this time the deceased was not moving but was lying face upwards and snoring [obviously unconscious]. 

“The defendants and Atapana then left the area, leaving the deceased lying on the road.

“Sometime later that night the defendants returned to the scene, and found the deceased lying where they had left him. With the help of another villager they lifted and carried him to a road in front of the house of a relative of the deceased.”

The summary says the deceased never woke up but was heard to be still snoring.

Around 7am the next morning, the deceased was discovered by another villager, lying where the defendants had left him.

“He was observed to be motionless and not breathing. He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The result of these unfortunate events is now [why] these two young men stand before the court to receive punishment for their actions,” the court heard. 

Justice Vui said that a penalty for the offence must send a clear message that the defendants’ behaviour was not acceptable. 

“A message that must also be conveyed to other young men. One of the messages is if you cannot drink ava palagi or beer and act responsibly, best you do not drink at all,” Justice Vui said. 

“It is clear from the amended summary that these defendants were in an intoxicated state. And in that condition they ganged up on the deceased, and after beating him left him on the road to die.”

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