Chapter 03 - District Court

Chapter 03 - District Court

Reviser’s Comment:
Section 1 of PL 16-28 provided:
This act shall be known and may be cited as the District Court Act of 1979.
Section 2 of PL 16-28 provided:
This act is intended to establish a new trial court in American Samoa, to be known as a District Court, which will adjudicate lesser civil cases, minor criminal offenses, small claims, traffic violations, and public health cases, and which will conduct preliminary appearances in serious criminal cases. These are all
matters which currently occupy much time at the High Court. Certain other reforms and modifications of the judicial system are also effected, including the institution of four year terms for associate judges. The role of the associate judges is expanded by giving them the right to participate in proceedings before all divisions of the High Court. The bench is enlarged in matai cases to 4 associate judges and a nonparticipating presiding justice.

3.0301 Composition.


The District Court shall consist of 1 or more district court judges.

3.0302 Jurisdiction.


(a) The District Court has jurisdiction of the following matters: civil cases or controversies other than actions involving land or matai titles, in which the amount in controversy shall not exceed $15,000; criminal cases in which the offense charged is a misdemeanor or any offense punishable by not more than 1 year of imprisonment; traffic cases except those involving a felony; initial appearances and preliminary examinations in all criminal cases; adoptions; actions arising under the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, 42.0404 through 42.0454; actions arising under the Occupational Health and Safety Act; and public health offenses arising under 25.2001 et seq.

(b) The District Court is a court of limited jurisdiction and does not have jurisdiction over those matters under 3.0208 of which the High Court has original jurisdiction.

3.0303 Sessions-Petit jury.


(a) All sessions of the District Court are conducted by a District Court judge sitting alone.

(b) Sessions of the District Court are held in the Court House in Fagatogo, Tutuila, or at such other places in American Samoa as the business of the court requires and as the Chief Justice may designate from time to time.

(c) A person charged with an offense carrying a maximum possible punishment of over 6 months but not more than one year of imprisonment shall be tried by a jury unless he personally waives this right in writing or in open court. The petit jury shall be comprised of 6 persons. The jury verdict must be unanimous. Voir dire of prospective jurors shall be conducted by the court.

(d) Whenever petit jury trials are held in District Court as provided in subsection (c) the District Court judge, as provided in subsection (a), sitting alone acts as presiding judge. All questions of law shall be ruled upon by the presiding judge.

3.0304 General powers.


The District Court has power to issue process and do all acts not inconsistent with law or with the rules made by the Chief Justice of American Samoa, as may be required for the due administration of justice, and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing powers, may grant bail, accept and forfeit security, make orders for the attendance of witnesses with or without documents, make orders for the disposal of exhibits and punish for contempt of court.

3.0305 Contempt power.


The District Court has the power to punish by fine or imprisonment, at its discretion, contempt of its authority consisting of the following:

(1) misbehavior of any person in its presence or so near thereto that the misbehavior obstructs the administration of justice;

(2) misbehavior of any of its officers in their official transactions; and

(3) disobedience or resistance to its lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command.

3.0306 Not a court of record.


The District Court is not a court of record, but the Chief Justice may from time to time order that record be made of any individual proceeding or any class of proceedings.

3.0307 Clerk and other officers.


(a) The Clerk of the High Court serves also as Clerk of the District Court; other High Court officers and employees may be assigned to work part-time or full-time for the district court by the Chief Justice of the High Court.

(b) In addition, such employees of the District Court as the Chief Justice may consider necessary are appointed by the Chief Justice, receive salaries fixed by him, and are subject to removal by him.

3.0308 Trial of small claims.


Small claims, which arc defined as civil claims of less than $3,000 may be tried under simplified procedures in district court in accordance with Title 43.

3.0309 Appeals.


Final decisions of the District Court may be appealed to the High Court. Upon appeal, cases or controversies in which there is a stenographic record are considered by the appellate division of the High Court for review of the findings of fact and conclusions of law. All other cases or controversies where there is no stenographic record are tried de novo by the trial division of the High Court. However, any case which is appealable under this section may be appealed on a question of law directly to the appellate division of the High Court.