Guam’s Criminal Prosecution System ‘Works’: Attorney General

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Guam’s Criminal Prosecution System ‘Works’: Attorney General AG’s office takes ‘hard line’ against plea deals in serious cases

By Cameron Miculka

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, May 2, 2013) – Guam's system of prosecuting criminals works, said the island's attorney general, despite the fact that some cases and victims "fall through the cracks."

Attorney General Leonardo Rapadas yesterday responded to the public's concerns that his office has failed to keep the community safe from repeat offenders.

"We do look at the history of defendants," Rapadas said yesterday. "We're attempting to make sure career criminals stay behind bars."

The attorney general's office has drawn public criticism after two men, Raymond Tedtaotao and Anthony Mendiola, were arrested last weekend in connection with a brutal Nimitz Hill home invasion.

They both have a history of arrests and convictions spanning decades.

The attorney general's office mishandled a 2009 burglary case against Tedtaotao when it failed to prosecute him within the time limit allowed by Guam law and the case was dismissed.

It appealed the dismissal to the Supreme Court of Guam, but it failed to pursue the appeal, which also was dismissed.

Prosecutors dropped charges against Tedtaotao, who was arrested last October for allegedly using the debit card of Monique Baza, who had been raped and robbed after being kidnapped outside Crown Bakery in Barrigada.

Baza on Monday spoke publicly about the assault, and said she was furious to learn that Tedtaotao had been arrested again in connection with the Nimitz Hill home invasion.

She asked why violent offenders, including the man who allegedly raped and robbed her -- Ray Tedtaotao Camacho -- "get slaps on the wrist." Camacho already had served time in prison for sexual assault, she said.

"The more we speak out, the more things are going to start changing," she said Tuesday.

Rapadas said having crime victims fall out of the loop "is the exception, not the rule" and it's a problem he takes very seriously.

"We only hear about the ones that fall through the cracks," said Rapadas. "But I want to hear that. Our system works. It's not perfect, but it works."

Rapadas said all agency employees receive training on the Crime Victims Rights Act and prosecutors are made aware of it rules. It requires crime victims to be informed of major developments in the cases against alleged perpetrators.

While the attorney general said he couldn't speak about the Crown Bakery or Nimitz Hill cases, he said he recently spoke with Baza to assure her that her alleged assailant is being prosecuted.

Rapadas also addressed community concerns about the number of plea agreements between prosecutors and defendants.

According to statistics from the Superior Court of Guam, about 95 percent of all cases that make it past a grand jury are either dismissed or resolved through a plea agreement.

That statistic is on par with the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Chief Prosecutor Basil O'Mallan yesterday said it's important to have the majority of cases resolved through plea agreements because more jury trials would place a major burden on the island's court system.

But Guam also is faced with the issue of defendants who allegedly commit crimes while waiting to go on trial.

Emmanuel Cepeda was facing charges of family violence when he was arrested for allegedly shooting his wife to death earlier this year.

O'Mallan said, in many cases, prosecutors try to keep suspects behind bars, but judges sometimes release them on a lower bail amount or on their own recognizance.

"We asked for cash bail," O'Mallan said of the Cepeda case. "We routinely oppose those releases."

Rapadas agreed, saying the public is "not going to see this office agreeing to release."

Furthermore, Rapadas said, his office is firmly against offering plea agreements in cases involving extreme violence, such as aggravated murder.

"We'll take a hard line," Rapadas said.

However, Rapadas said, the heavy workload at the attorney general's office affects how cases are handled.

Rapadas said each of the island's 15 prosecutors who regularly attend court are tasked with handling 300 to 400 cases.

In comparison, he said, the American Bar Association recommends a case load of no more than 150 cases for each prosecutor.

O'Mallan said this pressure "has to" result in cases falling through the cracks.

Rapadas said one possible solution for dealing with repeat offenders is a three-strikes law.

Under that type of law, a third felony conviction would automatically trigger life in prison for offenders.

Rapadas said he would support passage of a three-strikes bill.

Sen. Brant McCreadie, R-Agana Heights, recently said he is working on legislation for a "two-strikes" bill, which would put felons away "for an extended amount of time" upon a second conviction.

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