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american samoa law

Office of the Governor || American Samoa Government

American Samoa Law

The law of American Samoa comes from different sources and in different forms. The main sources of law are the Revised Constitution of American Samoa, case law, legislation, and executive action.  There are other sources of law as well, such as the Deeds of Cession[JM3] . 

The Revised Constitution of American Samoa  is the highest law in American Samoa.  It is the legal instrument that establishes and empowers the American Samoa Government.  It also establishes rights and limits on governmental power. 

The Constitution creates the three branches of government the legislative, the executive, and the courts.  Each branch has its role creating and enforcing the law. 

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Legislature

The Legislature creates laws by passing bills.  Once those bills become law, typically when they are approved and signed by the governor, they become Public Laws.  Most Public Laws contain statutes that are organized (codified) in the American Samoa Code Annotated (A.S.C.A.).   Some Public Laws, especially those that are authorized spending money (appropriations) are not.

 

Executive Branch

Once the Legislature passes a bill, the Governor can approve the law, reject the law (Veto), or take no action.  If the Governor approves the bill or takes no action, the bill becomes a Public Law.  If the governor vetoes a bill, it is returned to the Legislature which may attempt to overturn the veto. 

The Governor can also make law.  The Governor can sign an Executive Order  to govern actions that are carried out by the executive branch.  The legislature has also delegated some lawmaking authority to the Governor.  For instance, A.S.C.A. § 26.0105  allows the Governor to declare an emergency.  Declarations of Emergency can allow the governor to suspend or create laws while the emergency persists.  The Legislature also created the Administrative Procedures Act  A.S.C.A. § 4.1001 et seq. which allows executive agencies to create rules. 

When rules are created through the Administrative Procedures Act (A.P.A.), they are added to the American Samoa Administrative Code (A.S.A.C.).  While agencies often have policies and standard operating procedures (S.O.P.s), those do not have the force of law.  Rules that are promulgated through the A.P.A. have the force and effect of law. 

Judicial Branch

The Judicial Branch hears controversies and interprets the law.  Written orders and decisions of the Court can be used by people in court to argue for their position.  For instance, a lawyer could argue that her case is very similar to a prior case, and therefore the Court should rule in the same way in this case.  Generally, the person on the other side will point out all of the differences to argue that the Court should not rule in the same way in the current case.  After the Court hears the case, a new decision or order will be written.  The accumulated written orders of courts is called Case Law or the Common Law. 

This site does not catalog decisions of the Court.  Some research can be done by visiting the Harvard Case Law Project.  They have scanned all of the published official reports of the High Court.  The American Samoa Bar Association has also posted some decisions. 

Hierarchy of Laws

The Constitution of American Samoa is the highest-level law in American Samoa.  No other American Samoa law or executive action can contradict the Constitution.  After the Constitution, the statutes that are passed by the Legislature have the most authority.  No executive action, whether it’s a rule or executive order can contradict a statute.  Rules and Executive Orders are also law.  S.O.P.s and policies that are created by departments are not binding law. Employees can be required the follow them, but no SOP or policy can contradict the Constitution, a statute, a rule, or executive order. 

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American Samoa Code Annotated

The American Samoa Code Annotated is a collection of statutes that have been passed by the Legislature.  It is organized into titles that cover broad areas of the law.  They are often divided into Chapters.  Sometimes they are further divided into sub chapters, parts, and sub parts. 

When practitioners want to discuss a statute, they often cite to a code section.  For instance, the code section for Assault in the Third Degree is A.S.C.A. § 46.3522. 

 

The structure of the code section can tell a person where the section is in the law.  The number in front of the periods is the title, 46 Criminal Justice.  The first two numbers after the code section are the chapter, 35 Offenses Against the Person.  The last two numbers indicate section itself. 

Code sections generally divided into sub sections, paragraphs, and subparagraphs.  Using A.S.C.A. § 46.3522 as an example:

46.3522 Assault in the 3rd degree.

(a) A person commits the crime of assault in the 3rd degree if:

(1) he attempts to cause or recklessly causes physical injury to another person;

(2) with criminal negligence he causes physical injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon; or

(3) he purposely places another person in apprehension of immediate physical injury;

(4) he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death or serious physical injury to another person; or

(5) he knowingly causes physical contact with another person knowing the other person will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.

(b) Assault in the 3rd degree is a class A misdemeanor unless committed under paragraph (a) (3) or (5): then it is a class C misdemeanor.

 

There are two subsections (a) and (b). Subsection (a) defines the crime of Assault in the Third Degree and breaks describes different ways of committing the crime in paragraphs.  If a person violates subparagraph (a)(5) by knowingly causing physical contact with another person known the other person will regard the contact as offensive, that person committed Assault in the Third Degree.  Subparagraph (b) states that a violation of A.S.C.A. § 46.3522(a)(5) is a class C misdemeanor. 

 
American Samoa Administrative Code

The American Samoa Administrative Code is a collection of rules[JM11]  that have been promulgated pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act A.S.C.A. § 4.1001 et seq.  It is organized into titles that cover broad areas of the law just lice the American Samoa Code Annotated.  They are often divided into Chapters.  Sometimes they are further divided into sub chapters, parts, and sub parts. 

When practitioners want to discuss a provision, they often cite to a code section.  For instance, the code section for labeling fractions on consumer packages is is A.S.A.C. § 27.0632.  

The structure of the code section can tell a person where the section is in the law.  The number in front of the periods is the title, 27 Commerce and Trade.  The first two numbers after the code section are the chapter, 6 Weights and Measures.  The last two numbers indicate section itself. 

Code sections generally divided into sub sections, paragraphs, and subparagraphs.  Using A.S.A.C. § 27.0632 as an example:

27.0632 Fractions.

(a) A statement net quantity of contents of any consumer commodity may contain common or decimal fractions. A common fraction shall be in terms of halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, or thirty-seconds, except that:

(1) if there exists a firmly established general consumer usage and trade custom of employing different common fractions in the net quantity declaration of a particular commodity they may be employed; and

(2) if linear measurements are required in terms of yards or feet, common fractions may be in terms of thirds.

(b) A common fraction shall be reduced to its lowest terms; a decimal fraction shall not be carried out to more than 2 places.

 

There are two subsections (a) and (b).  Subsection (a) establishes a general rule for fractions on packages.  Paragraphs (a)(1) and (2) provide exceptions to the general rule.  Subsection (b) governs reducing fractions. 

 

Public Law

The numbers for each public law are issued by the Governor’s office when the law goes into effect. New legislatures are elected in every even numbered year.  Each new legislature is numbered.  The first number in the public law is the legislature and the second number is a unique identifier. 

Except for appropriations, public laws tend to be esoteric since most laws that are passed by the legislature codified in the American Samoa Code Annotated. 

Public laws are put in collections that are sometimes referred to as session laws, statutory updates, or session reporters. 

 

 

Rules

For a rule to have the force and effect of law, the it must be promulgated pursuant to the Administrative Procedures Act.  Promulgation generally requires that a rule be published for 20 days so the public may comment on the law.  Then a hearing may be held.  Based on the comments that are received by an agency, the director or board that has authority to create rules may make changes.  Once they are satisfied, the rule is filed with both houses of the Legislature and the Secretary of American Samoa (the Lieutenant Governor).  After that, the Attorney General will assign an effective date, typically the effective date is 20 days after the rule is filed. 

In emergency, a rule may be promulgated without being published for 20 days and without waiting 20 days after filing.  Emergency rules may only be in effect for 120 days.

Once a rule is promulgated, it is incorporated into the American Samoa Administrative Code

[Insert rule chart here]

 

Executive Orders

Executive orders are orders from the Governor under his authority granted by the Constitution and A.S.C.A. § 4.0111.  Typically, they direct the Executive Branch to carry out its duties.  They are often issued to realign the structure of government.  For instance, the American Samoa Telecommunications Authority and the Shipyard Authority were both created by Executive Orders. 

 
 
 
 
Constitution and Historic Documents

 
Disclaimer

The purpose of this site is to make the law more available to the public. The information on this page is not a substitute for legal advice.   Efforts have been made to make the information on this page is as accurate as possible.  If you see something that you believe is incomplete or inaccurate, email legal@go.as.gov