Series: 7ASR3d | Year: () | 7ASR3d130
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High Court

of American Samoa



CA No.



June 26,




[1] The Revised Constitution of American Samoa provides for the writ of

habeas corpus under Article I, Section 7.


[2] The writ of habeas corpus provides immediate relief from illegal



[3] In examining pro se

pleadings, the court does so without regard to the technical niceties demanded

of attorney-drafted pleadings.


[4] A.S.C.A. § 46.2521 vests supervision of the work release program at

the Territorial Correctional Facility with the Warden and therefore the Court

lacks authority to grant work release pursuant to a writ of habeas corpus. 


[5] The power to commute sentences is reserved to the Governor under

Article IV, Section 9 of the Revised Constitution of American Samoa.  The Court may not, pursuant to a writ of

habeas corpus or otherwise, commute a prisoner’s sentence.


[6] Where prisoner moved for writ of habeas corpus, court properly

considered only the term of imprisonment under which he was currently serving,

not additional terms which he was to serve in the future and which were

consecutive to his present one.


[7] Habeas corpus is not a vehicle for the courts to inquire into

management of the prison system, unless “exceptional circumstances” exist,

rising to the level of a “constitutional deprivation.”


[8] Where prisoner alleged that plea agreement entered was

not one he had agreed to and that instead of pleading guilty to Counts I and

VI, he had been forced to plea to counts I, II, and V, court would not address

the illegality of his punishment under counts II and V as prisoner had not yet

begun serving those sentences.


Before WARD, Acting Associate Justice.




Defendant, a current inmate serving the first of three, 5-year

consecutive prison terms for assault, at the Territorial Correction Facility,

has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with this court. The Court has

carefully reviewed the petition and the exhibits attached thereto.




[1-3] The privilege of a writ of habeas

corpus is provided under Article I, Section 7 of the Revised Constitution of American Samoa.  This writ has been described as “the great

writ” which provides “immediate relief from illegal detention.”  Suisala v. Moaali`itele, 6 A.S.R.2d

15, 18 (Trial Div. 1987).  We examine the

pro se pleadings in this case as broadly as possible without regard to

the technical niceties demanded of attorney-drafted pleadings.


[4-5] Petitioner prays the Court to

commute his sentence to time served or reduce his sentence to three years with

the privilege of work release from the Territorial Correction Facility to be

granted immediately.  This Court lacks

the authority to grant these prayers. 

The work release program at the correctional facility is, by statute,

supervised by the Warden.  See

A.S.C.A. § 46.2521 et seq.  Nor

may this Court, under the writ of habeas corpus or otherwise, commute

petitioner’s sentence.  That power is

exclusively exercised by the Governor under Article IV, Section 9 of the

Revised Constitution of American Samoa.


[6] Petitioner’s prayers notwithstanding his petition

must be reviewed to determine if it presents on its face a showing that his

confinement is unlawful.  Relying upon A.S.C.

v Adams, 29 A.S.R.2d 160,

161 (Trial Div. 1996) (citing Dunlap v. Swope, 103 F.2d 19 (9th Cir. 1939)), only petitioner’s

present sentence, and not the two prospective, consecutive 5-year sentences, is

considered for purposes of his allegation of current illegal confinement.


Petitioner alleges: he has not been given permission to

attend church services on Saturdays; that the correctional facility does not

provide inmates with clothing, sheets, towels, soap, etc.; that the meals

served at the facility are not nutritious; that his cell is hot and not well

ventilated; and that petitioner doesn’t always get to exercise every day.


[7] Although petitioner presents a grim picture of his

life in confinement, “[h]abeas corpus is not a vehicle for the courts to

inquire into management of the prison system, unless ‘exceptional

circumstances’ rise to the level of ‘constitutional deprivation.’”  Am. Samoa Gov’t v. Agasiva, 6 A.S.R.2d

32, 38 (Trial Div. 1987).  On its face,

this petition does not assert any factual situation, which, if true, would

present circumstances of illegal detainment predicated upon cruel or unusual

punishment or any other restraint in violation of petitioner’s constitutional

rights.  Petitioner’s remedy lies with

the executive branch, not with the Court under a habeas corpus proceeding.


As to petitioner’s allegations that he didn’t fully understand his plea

agreement and that his lawyer failed to file a timely motion before the

sentencing court to reduce his sentence, we have carefully reviewed his

allegations.  We return however, to the

issue we addressed above as to petitioners present sentence of 5 years for

Count I, Assault in the Second Degree.


[8] Petitioner states that his first plea agreement

included a dismissal of all counts except Counts I and VI.  Petitioner’s claims that he was surprised at

his subsequent hearing with the proposal that he would enter pleas of guilty to

Counts I, II, and V with the government dismissing the balance of the charges.


Petitioner is presently serving his sentence for Count I.  His allegations that his future sentences may

result in his illegal detention when those sentences commence do not presently

support the issuance of a writ while he is serving a legal sentence.




The petition filed in this matter, broadly construed in favor of this pro se prisoner, does not allege facts

which if proven to be true would demonstrate his current detention is

illegal.  Petitioner’s current remedy is

exclusively with the executive branch of government.  He is strongly advised to avail himself to

the administrative remedies for his grievances concerning his personal

circumstances in confinement.  He may

also avail himself to the parole board with respect to his current sentence.

And finally, he may petition the Governor for relief.


To ensure that the executive branch officers with authority over these

matters are fully informed on the status of this particular legal action by

petitioner, the Clerk of Courts shall cause a copy of this Opinion and Order

and a copy of the petition and exhibits to be served upon the Attorney General,

the Commissioner of Public Safety, Counsel to the Governor, and the Public



The petition is denied.




It is so