20 May 2005

American Samoa drug laws ineffective and costly, says departing public defender

1:13 pm on 20 May 2005

A departing assistant public defender in American Samoa is urging a review of the territory's drug laws.

Matt Pavelich says American Samoa's drug laws and sentencing provisions make no distinction to the amount or kind of drug a defendant is accused of possessing.

He believes the current laws are not effective in stemming drug use but puts more pressure on the jail system and public resources.

Mr Pavelich says a person possessing one marijuana cigarette or a tonne of heroin both face sentences of five years.

"...and the judge's hands are tied when it comes time to sentence. They must sentence them to at least five years in jail without parole. Assaults with weapons and things like that do not draw as serious a sentence. It's just a very poor use of resources because it costs quite a lot of money to keep somebody in jail for five years."

Matt Pavelich says the money spent on keeping these people in jail could be better spent on education and treatment.