Minister calls for tougher prison sentences

The Minister of Police has called for tougher prison sentences to be imposed on those found guilty of the most serious crimes, in the wake of a string of violent incidents in the New Year. 

The Minister of Police and Prisons, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, singled out the practice of having Judges sentence defendants to serve separate sentences concurrently rather than consecutively as an example of punishments that are too lenient. 

“It is the norm for judges to hand down sentencing to be served concurrently, yet the crimes were committed separately; therefore [they] should be served consecutively,” he said in an interview with the Samoa Observer. 

The Minister’s comments follow three alleged cases of murder that took place in the first 24 hours of the New Year, including an alleged double shooting in Afega and an alleged stabbing in Fagaloa. 

The Minister has called for an amendment to legislation to make sure that perpetrators of murders are dealt harsher sentences to better reflect the gravity of their crimes.

“Sentencing should reflect the extent and horrific [nature] of the crime committed, but 10 years [for murder] is not enough,” he said. 

“Under the Crimes Act anyone convicted of murder automatically serves jail.

“After serving ten years in jail, the accused's fate rests solely [in] the hands of the Parole Board.

"[If] that person is then eligible for parole and sometimes their request is granted and sometimes it's denied." 

But the Minister said that perpetrators found guilty of serious crimes should face longer prison terms. 

“Ten years is not enough for a convicted murderer,” he said. 

“If anything there should be harsher penalties for such horrific crimes. 

“The sentencing should reflect the extent and [horror] of the crime committed, but 10 years is not enough.”

The Minister said that public outrage about recent fatal crimes had spilled over into calls for the death penalty to be reinstated as a punishment for the most serious crimes in Samoa.

The death penalty remained on Samoa’s statute books until the process to erase the law began in 2004.

The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, told Parliament there was no point in maintaining legal punishments that were no longer enforced. 

The last time the death penalty was handed down as a sentence predated Samoa's independence by a decade, according to a history published by the New Zealand Government’s then Department of Island territories. 

That case, which was carried out in 1952, involved a man being sentenced to death by hanging after he was found guilty murdering his wife with an axe. The country was still under New Zealand’s colonial control at the time.

“The Government will not in any manner accept or consider revisiting capital punishment,” the Minister said in response to questions from the Samoa Observer. 

“We are a Christian country.

“If I recall correctly, the capital punishment was repealed in the early noughties; and just as well, the law was in the Crimes Act, but they did not however have any means to carry out [executions] for more than 50 years. 

“The law was then amended to [impose] life imprisonment.

The Minister told the Samoa Observer that prior to the abolition of the death penalty, death by hanging had been the mandatory sentence for murder in Samoa, but was always commuted to a sentence of life imprisonment by the Late Head of state, His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II.

The Minister made reference to the recent shooting death of two men in Afega shortly after the clock ticked past midnight on New Year's Eve, over which one man has been charged. 

On Friday morning, families of the two victims accepted two separate apologies conveyed by members from the alleged perpetrator's family and village.

Tialavea, who did not comment with specific regard to the case which is a matter scheduled to come before a court, said when defendants are convicted of serious crimes, courts should more readily hand down consecutive, rather than concurrent jail terms. That would have the effect of placing offenders behind bars for a longer period of time. 

“All in all, [everyone] deserves justice and [punishments should be meted out if there] are two separate incidences [of crimes being committed],” the Minister said. 

Life sentences in Samoa are often commuted to shorter periods of time by the Parole Board.

One of the most high-profile such cases in recent memory involved Alatise Leafa Vitale who was found guilty of assassinating Cabinet Minister Luagalau Levaula Kamu in 1999.

Alatise was released from jail after serving 11 years of his sentence after he appealed to the Parole Board for early release on health grounds. 

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