AMERICAN SAMOA GOVERNMENT, Plaintiff
Court of American Samoa
 The Revised
Constitution of American Samoa guarantees individuals the right against self-incrimination
and requires that any confession be voluntary.
 The right
against self-incrimination requires that anyone in police custody be advised,
before interrogation by the police, of his or her right to remain silent, and
right to counsel.
 The court
must look to the totality of the surrounding circumstances to determine whether
a confession is made voluntarily.
Totality of the circumstances surrounding defendant’s post-arrest interrogation
demonstrated that his statement was voluntarily made where defendant had
previously refused to talk to police officers but had asked to speak to
specific officer, was advised of Miranda
rights prior to questioning, and where there were no facts indicating defendant
was either coerced or threatened.
KRUSE, Chief Justice, LOGOAI, Chief Associate Judge, and SAGAPOLUTELE,
Counsel: For Plaintiff, Suzanne L.
Tiapula, Assistant Attorney
For Defendant, Bentley C. Adams III, Assistant
DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO SUPPRESS
Afa Alataua (“Alataua”) is charged with nine felony counts, consisting of
two counts of rape; two counts of sodomy, two counts of incest, two counts of
sexual abuse in the first degree, and one count of assault in the third
degree. These charges stem from alleged
incidents of sexual intercourse and other sexual contact by Alataua
with his sixteen-year-old step-daughter (“complainant”), and an alleged
incident of assault by Alataua upon his wife.
December 8, 2000, after a report that Alataua was
attempting to entice the complainant to go with him, police apprehended him and
placed him in custody at the Tafuna Correctional
Facility (“TCF”). Meanwhile on the same
day, District Court Judge John L Ward II issued a warrant for Alataua’s arrest and commitment to the TCF without bail.
Alataua was held at the TCF, he refused to speak to
any of the officers present, and specifically requested that he communicate
only with Lieutenant Aiga Suitonu
On the morning of December 9, 2000, Lt. Suitonu,
a veteran police officer holding a supervisory position with the Domestic
Violence and Sexual Assault Division of the Department of Public Safety,
arrived at the TCF at approximately 10:00 a.m.
Accompanied by Detective Michael Nix (“Det. Nix”), Lt. Suitonu met with Alataua. The watch commander at the TCF invited the
officers and Alataua to use his office so that they
might have more privacy. Both Lt. Suitonu and Det. Nix were in plain clothing.
Lt. Suitonu began any discussion with Alataua, she wrote down the time of 10:00 a.m. at the top
of Alataua’s statement form. She then asked Alataua
why he wished to speak with her, to which he replied that he needed Lt. Suitonu’s help. Lt. Suitonu then told him to wait while she read him his
rights. Det. Nix, a native Samoan
speaker, read Alataua his rights in the Samoan
language. Det. Nix advised Alataua that he had the right to remain silent, the right
to have an attorney present and/or appointed for him, and the right to
discontinue questioning at any time. Nix
also informed Alataua that any statements made may be
used against him later in court. Lt. Suitonu asked Alataua if he
understood his rights, to which he answered affirmatively. Police did not threaten or otherwise coerce Alataua to induce him to make a statement.
to Lt. Suitonu, at approximately 10:30 a.m., Alataua indicated that he understood those rights by
signing a one-page document, which listed his rights in the Samoan
language. (This form is commonly known
as the constitutional rights waiver form (“waiver form”). Then, after discussing the circumstances
surrounding the charges against him with Suitonu, Alataua wrote a statement regarding this case. Alataua completed
and signed his written statement at approximately 11:15 a.m., as indicated on
the bottom of his written statement. At
sometime during this process, Lt. Suitonu served Alataua with the warrant for his arrest.
moves this Court to suppress his oral and written statements made on December
9, 2000. After due consideration of the
motion, we deny it for the following reasons.
The Revised Constitution of American Samoa guarantees individuals the right
against self-incrimination. Article I §
6 of the American Samoa Constitution states that “[n]o person . . . shall . . .
be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Also, the Due Process Clause of the Revised
Constitution of American Samoa, Article I § 2, requires that a confession be
voluntary. In interpreting the right
against self-incrimination, this Court has adopted the Supreme Court’s ruling
in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), which requires that
certain protections be afforded criminal defendants. See Am. Samoa Gov’t
v. Luki, 21 A.S.R.2d 84, 86 (Trial Div. 1992); Am.
Samoa Gov’t v. Fealofa`i,
24 A.S.R.2d 10, 11-12 (Trial Div. 1993).
Under Miranda, the right against self-incrimination requires that anyone
in police custody be advised, before interrogation by the police, of his or her
right to remain silent, and right to counsel.
Miranda, 384 U.S. at 497.
“The police may use a defendant’s confession [obtained during a
custodial interrogation] without transgressing his . . . right [against self-incrimination]
only when the decision to confess is the defendant’s free choice.” United States v.
Anderson, 929 F.2d 96, 98 (2d Cir. 1991). The court must look to the totality of the
surrounding circumstances to determine whether a confession is made
voluntarily. See Green v. Scully,
850 F.2d 894, 901 (2d Cir. 1988).
United States v. McGuire, 957 F.2d 310, 315 (7th Cir. 1992), the Court,
after considering the totality of the circumstances, concluded that the
defendant’s confession was voluntarily made.
These circumstances included evidence that the defendant appeared sober,
was not under any duress during the interview, and had been advised of his Miranda
rights before the interrogation. See also Nelson v. Walker, 121 F.3d
828, 833-34 (2d Cir. 1997).
the instant case, as a preliminary factual matter, we find that police properly
complied with Miranda before interrogating Alataua. Alataua contends
that the times as reflected on the waiver form and statement show that the
statement was elicited before he was read his constitutional rights. However, we find that Lt. Suitonu
is a credible witness, and accordingly believe her testimony that before making
any statement, she advised Alataua of his
Furthermore, we find that the totality of the circumstances surrounding Alataua’s post-arrest interrogation demonstrates that Alataua’s statements were voluntarily made. The fact that Alataua
refused to talk to police officers at the TCF and specifically asked for Lt. Suitonu demonstrates his willingness to make a statement to
police. In addition, none of the
elicited facts shows that Alataua was coerced or
threatened either before or during his questioning. In fact, during the interview, Lt. Suitonu and her companion were dressed in civilian
clothing, and the interview took place in a private office. Finally, police advised Alataua
of his rights as required by Miranda before Alataua
made any statements to police.
Accordingly, we find that Alataua’ statements
were made of his own “free choice” and were not procured by police in violation
of Alataua’s constitutional right against
the foregoing reasons, defendant Alataua’s motion to
suppress his statements is denied.
is so ordered.