5ASR3d77

Series: 5ASR3d | Year: () | 5ASR3d77
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AMERICAN SAMOA GOVERNMENT, Plaintiff

 

v.

 

AFA

ALATAUA, Defendant.

 

High

Court of American Samoa

Trial

Division

 

CR

No. 116-00

 

April

18, 2001


 

 

[1] The Revised

Constitution of American Samoa guarantees individuals the right against self-incrimination

and requires that any confession be voluntary.

 

[2] 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.

 

[3] The court

must look to the totality of the surrounding circumstances to determine whether

a confession is made voluntarily.

 

[4]

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.

 

Before

KRUSE, Chief Justice, LOGOAI, Chief Associate Judge, and SAGAPOLUTELE,

Associate Judge.

 

Counsel: For Plaintiff, Suzanne L.

Tiapula, Assistant Attorney

General

 For Defendant, Bentley C. Adams III, Assistant

Public Defender

 

ORDER

DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO SUPPRESS

 

Facts

 

Defendant

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.

 

On

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.

 

While

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

(“Lt. 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.

 

Before

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.

 

According

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.

 

Alataua

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.

 

Discussion

 

[1]

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).

 

[2-3]

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).

 

In

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).

 

In

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

constitutional rights.

 

[4]

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

self-incrimination.

 

 

Conclusion

and Order

 

For

the foregoing reasons, defendant Alataua’s motion to

suppress his statements is denied.

 

It

is so ordered.

 

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